Occup Environ Med 62:95-100 doi:10.1136/oem.2004.014035
  • Original article

Gender differences in the association of age with physical workload and functioning

  1. A Aittomäki1,
  2. E Lahelma1,
  3. E Roos1,
  4. P Leino-Arjas2,
  5. P Martikainen3
  1. 1Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Finland
  2. 2Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Finland
  3. 3Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki, Finland
  1. Correspondence to:
 Mr A Aittomäki
 Department of Public Health, PO Box 41, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland;
  • Accepted 20 October 2004


Aims: To test whether (1) physically demanding work is less frequent for older than younger employees, and whether (2) the association of physically demanding work with decline of physical functioning is stronger for older employees than their younger counterparts. The gender differences in these associations were examined.

Methods: Subjects of the study were 40–60 year old employees of the City of Helsinki. Data (n = 5802) were collected with mail questionnaires in 2000 and 2001. Functioning was measured with the Role Limitations due to Physical Health Problems scale of the SF36 health questionnaire. Logistic regression models were used to analyse the data.

Results: There was a linear trend of less physically demanding work in older than in younger age groups. This trend was more marked for men than women. Age and physically demanding work were associated with poor functioning. In women the association of physically demanding work with poor functioning tended to be stronger for older than for younger age groups, while the opposite was observed in men.

Conclusions: Results suggest that physically demanding work causes more ailments in women of high age than men. It is possible that less men than women are still employed in physically demanding occupations at high age, even though direct evidence of exit from physically demanding work cannot be obtained from cross-sectional data. In these data the physically demanding occupations for men and women were largely different. High physical workload among women working in social and health care is likely to contribute to the gender differences.


  • Ethical approval statement: Participation to the study is voluntary and all participants have been informed on this. A written permission to link the questionnaire data with the register data has been asked from each participant. The study protocol of the Helsinki Health Study has been approved by the ethical committee of the Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, and the ethical committee of the City of Helsinki health authorities. Additionally, the personnel board of the City of Helsinki has approved the protocol, and acts as a follow up group.