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Original article
Socioeconomic position, psychosocial work environment and disability in an ageing workforce: a longitudinal analysis of SHARE data from 11 European countries
  1. Jan D Reinhardt1,2,
  2. Morten Wahrendorf3,
  3. Johannes Siegrist4
  1. 1Epidemiology of Functioning and Disability, Swiss Paraplegic Research, Nottwil, Lucerne, Switzerland
  2. 2Department of Health Sciences and Health Policy, University of Lucerne, Lucerne, Switzerland
  3. 3International Centre for Life Course Studies in Society and Health, Department of Primary Care and Public Health, Imperial College London, London, UK
  4. 4Department of Medical Sociology, Heinrich Heine University of Duesseldorf, Duesseldorf, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jan D Reinhardt, Epidemiology of Functioning and Disability, Swiss Paraplegic Research, Guido A Zäch Str 4, Nottwil, Lucerne 6207, Switzerland; jan.reinhardt{at}


Objectives Prevention of disability in the ageing workforce is essential for sustaining economic growth in Europe. In order to provide information on entry points for preventive measures, it is important to better understand sociodemographic, socioeconomic and work-related determinants of disability in older employees. We aimed to test the hypothesis that low socioeconomic position and exposure to a stressful psychosocial work environment at baseline contribute to later disability. We further assumed that the association of socioeconomic position with disability is partly mediated by exposure to adverse working conditions.

Methods We studied longitudinal data from the first two waves of the Survey on Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe comprising 11 European countries. Sociodemographic, socioeconomic and work-related factors (low control, effort-reward imbalance) and baseline disability of 2665 male and 2209 female employees aged between 50 and 64 years were used to predict disability 2 years later. Following the International Classification of Functioning (ICF), disability was subdivided into the components ‘impairment’ and ‘restriction in activities and participation’. Two multilevel Poisson regressions were fitted to the data.

Results After adjusting for baseline disability and relevant confounding variables, low socioeconomic position and chronic stress at work exerted significant effects on disability scores 2 years later. We found some support for the hypothesis that the association of socioeconomic position with disability is partly mediated by work stress.

Conclusions Investing in reduction of work stress and reducing social inequalities in health functioning are relevant entry points of policies that aim at maintaining work ability in early old age.

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