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Previous anxiety and depression as risk factors for early labour force exit


Background Individuals with a history of mental illness have lower earnings than individuals without. A possible reason is that those with prior anxiety or depression may be more likely to exit the labour force prior to retirement age, but evidence has been mixed and limited. Our objective was to compare risk of early labour force exit between employed adults with a history of depression or anxiety versus those without, separately for men and women.

Methods We used data from the Baltimore Epidemiological Catchment Area Follow-up Cohort, which collected baseline data in 1981 and follow-up data 1993–1996 and 2004–2005. Cox proportional hazards models estimated the relative risk of labour force exit comparing those with versus without prior history of anxiety or depressive disorders.

Results Women with prior anxiety or depression are at 37% increased risk of dropping out of the labour force as compared to women without, controlling for age, socioeconomic status, race and marital status (HR: 1.37, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.79). Men with prior anxiety or depression are 18% more likely to subsequently drop out of the labour force as compared to men without, controlling for the above confounders as well as veteran status, but this association is not statistically significant (HR: 1.18, 95% CI 0.72 to 1.27).

Conclusions Prior anxiety or depression increases risk of early labour force exit for women. These findings may help explain previously reported lower earnings among female individuals with a history of mental illness and highlight the importance of considering anxiety and depressive disorders in policies supporting labour force participation.

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