Background Due to transformations in pension policies, older workers, even those with poor health, are expected to extend their working lives. In this context, favourable working conditions are frequently discussed as modifiable characteristics that might help to their extended working lives. We investigate whether working conditions actually change if older workers’ physical or mental health is declining.
Methods Data on older men and women, aged 50–70 and observed at least twice, from six waves of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) were used (n=2,958). We observed both the onset of a chronic disease, i.e. diagnose/incident of diabetes, arthritis, stroke, heart problem, asthma, high blood pressure, cancer, or lung disease, and changes in mental health (CESD-R scale for depression), as well as changes in working conditions. Working conditions encompassed physical job demands, decision authority, social support, job security, and working hours. We used fixed effects models to analyse whether changes in older persons’ health could be related to alterations in working conditions.
Results Preliminary results show that after adjusting for individuals’ age, the onset of a chronic disease was related to lower decision authority (b=−0.16 [-0.25,–0.07]) and lower social support (b=−0.16 [-0.25,–0.08]). These associations also held after adjusting for individuals’ mental health. Furthermore, a decline in mental health were related to more unfavourable working conditions, specifically job security (b=−0.01 [-0.2,–0.004]), social support (b=−0.05 [-0.07,–0.03]), and decision authority (b=−0.04 [-0.07,–0.3]). The changes in working conditions are rather small but significant. Robustness checks are done to account for possible endogeneity.
Conclusion Working conditions do not seem to alter in order to accommodate older workers’ changing needs when their health declines. Rather, older workers with declining mental or physical health report deterioration in their working conditions. Future researchers, policy advisors, and employers might want to consider scrutinising the group of older workers with declining health and their special workplace requirements when discussing possibilities for extended working lives.
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