Article Text

Original research
High physical work demands and working life expectancy in Denmark
  1. Jacob Pedersen1,
  2. Bastian Bygvraa Schultz1,
  3. Ida E H Madsen1,
  4. Svetlana Solovieva2,
  5. Lars L Andersen1
  1. 1 National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Copenhagen, Denmark
  2. 2 Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jacob Pedersen, National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Copenhagen, Denmark; jpe{at}


Objective In most European countries, political reforms gradually increase the statutory retirement age to counter the economic costs of a growing elderly population. However, working to a high age may be difficult for people with hard physical labour. We aim to study the impact of high physical work demands on working life expectancy (WLE).

Methods We combined physical work demands assessed by job exposure matrix (JEM) and longitudinal high-quality national registers (outcome) in 1.6 million Danish workers to estimate WLE and years of sickness absence, unemployment and disability pension. The JEM value for physical work demand is a summarised score of eight ergonomic exposures for 317 occupations groups, sex and age. The WLE was estimated using a multistate proportional hazards model in a 4-year follow-up period.

Results Individuals with high physical work demands had a significantly lower WLE, than those with low physical work demands, with largest differences seen among women. At age 30 years, women with high physical work demands can expect 3.1 years less working, 11 months more of sickness absence and 16 months more of unemployment than low-exposed women. For 30-year-old men, the corresponding results were 2.0 years, 12 months and 8 months, respectively.

Conclusion Our findings show that high physical work demands are a marked risk factor for a shortened working life and increased years of sickness absence and unemployment. The results are important when selecting high-risk occupations, and expand the knowledge base for informed political decision making concerning statutory retirement age.

  • Physical work

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  • Contributors JP wrote the original manuscript draft and designed the study, BBS conducted the analysis and contributed to writing the results section. IEHM constructed the job exposure matrices, contributed to writing the manuscript and the interpretation of the results. SS and LLA oversaw the study design and interpretation of the results and contributed to writing the final manuscript. The corresponding author had full access to all data and had final responsibility to submit for publication.

  • Funding The study was supported by NordForsk (grant number 76659) (JP, SS); and the Nordic Council of Ministers (grant number 101250) (JP, SS).The funders of the study had no role in study design, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation or writing of the report.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval According to Danish law, research studies that use solely register data do not need approval from the National Committee on Health Research Ethics (Den Nationale Videnskabetiske Komité).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available. Data is available on the Researcher access at Statistics Denmark, see

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