More Proof That Your Job is Killing You

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The stresses of the modern workplace are literally killer. Of course, most offices, warehouses, and studios in the modern era are drastically safer than those of a few generations ago, but though we’ve been able to implement workplace protections to guard against a number of health and safety risks, many workers are still in peril. Instead of being pulled through a piece of machinery, for example, you’re now more likely to succumb to the negative effects that stress has on your body, and it can lead to premature death.

There have been a slew of studies and new evidence pointing to stress as a very real and very concerning health risk. Strokes are becoming more common, and more and more people are giving in to unhealthy and unnatural lifestyles that modern work environments seem to coddle. We have poor diets, and instead of exercising, we choose to head to the bar, or deal with family obligations (and the stresses that come along with that).

Now, scientists have been able to actually measure the impact stress is having on us, collectively. And according to a new study, elevated levels of stress can take as much as three years off of your life.

Researchers from both Harvard and Stanford took a look at how work impacts life expectancy, and specifically broke things down along a number of different categories, including level of education, sex, and race. This study, according to The Washington Post, is the first to take that step, and according to the results, there are some big differences in how particular groups deal with the stresses of modern life.

But the big headline figure is that some groups can actually expect to see their life expectancy shortened by as much as three years.

What’s interesting is how and why certain groups end up with more risk than others. According to the study itself, it has to do with a number of factors, including socio-economic status.

“People with different levels of education get sorted into jobs with different degrees of exposure to workplace attributes that contribute to poor health,” the study says. “We used General Social Survey data to estimate differential exposures to workplace conditions, results from a meta-analysis that estimated the effect of workplace conditions on mortality, and a model that permitted us to estimate the overall effects of workplace practices on health. We conclude that 10–38 percent of the difference in life expectancy across demographic groups can be explained by the different job conditions their members experience.”

As you might suspect, people on the low end of the economic spectrum were at higher risk of shortening their lives. Some of that had to do with the fact that they had less job security as unskilled or low-skilled workers, meaning that access to health insurance, and healthcare in general was more difficult to access. Also, smoking, drinking, and poor diets are more prevalent among the poor for a number of reasons, further skewing the odds.

Overall, it looks as though education is the biggest factor at play. The more educated individuals were, the less likely they were to find themselves in professions or positions that would have a significant negative impact on their health. That makes sense, as someone with an MBA is probably not going to take a job working with hazardous materials, for example. But that goes back to socio-economic factors, and there’s a lot to explore in terms of inequality and equal access to things like education.

It’s complicated, for sure, but the results of the study are no joke — people are dying as a result of their work environments.

Again, there’s always been significant risks with going to work, and obviously, a lot of those risks have been minimized over time with workplace regulations and safety protocols. The modern workplace is many times safer than the factories of generations past. And certain jobs are going to have certain risks associated with them that others do not — that’s clear.

But at the heart of this study’s findings are some troubling lessons about how and why people end up where they do. Personal responsibility plays a role, but it’ll be interesting to see how (or if) anything changes to try and address the shortening of life expectancy among certain groups.

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