Precariously employed people 20 per cent more likely to die early than securely employed: study

People who are precariously employed face a 20 per cent higher risk of premature death than those with secure employment, according to a new study by Swedish researchers.

The study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community in August and found jobs with short contracts, low wages and a lack of influence, predictability and security contribute to the risk of death.

“The results are important since they show that the elevated mortality rate observed in workers can be avoided,” said Nuria Matilla-Santander, lead author and assistant professor at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, in a media release. She said the study could be the basis for potentially life-saving policy changes in Sweden and beyond.

“If we reduce precariousness in the labour market, we can avoid premature deaths in Sweden.”

Matilla-Santander and her colleagues used registry data gathered between 2005 and 2017 from more than 250,000 workers in Sweden between 20 and 55 years old. The study included both people who shifted from insecure working conditions to secure working conditions, and those who remained in insecure conditions.

Matilla-Satander said gathering data from such a large population made it possible for her team to control for other factors besides precarious employment that might contribute to early death, such as age, stressful life changes like divorce, and common diseases workers can suffer from.

“Because of the methods we used, we can be relatively certain that the difference in mortality is due to the precariousness of employment rather than individual factors,” she said.

The study revealed that people who switched from precarious to secure employment had a 20 percent lower risk of death, regardless of what happened afterward, compared to those who remained in precarious employment. If they remained in secure employment for 12 years, the risk of death decreased by 30 per cent.

“This is the first study to show that changing from precarious employment to secure employment can reduce the risk of death,” co-author Theo Bodin said in a media release. “It’s the same as saying that the risk of early death is higher if one keeps working in jobs without a secure employment contract.”

The study adds to work by researchers around the world attempting to understand how precarious employment affects worker health.

One Finnish study from 2003 found lower risk of death for workers transitioning from temporary to permanent employment. Another study published in France in 2013 that found a higher risk of mortality among temporarily-employed males compared with permanent workers. A study conducted in the United States in 2019 found links between income volatility and all-cause mortality.

Matilla-Santander’s study doesn’t reveal specifically how precarious employment leads to premature death, but said one potential explanation is that precariously employed workers suffer from economic insecurity, material deprivation, chronic stress and poorer or more hazardous working conditions.

Matilla-Satander said the next phase of the research will further explore explanations for this link. 

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