Physical Work Exposures of Older Workers: Does Measurement Make a Difference?

TitlePhysical Work Exposures of Older Workers: Does Measurement Make a Difference?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsAndrasfay, T, Pebley, AR, Goldman, N
JournalWork, Aging and Retirement
ISBN Number2054-4650
KeywordsHealth Inequality, long-term health consequences, O*NET, Older workers, physical work

Physically demanding work at later ages, which is especially prevalent among disadvantaged groups, is associated with long-term health outcomes and may contribute to health inequality over the life course. Past studies of these issues have relied on occupational characteristics from the Occupational Information Network (ONET), but few have assessed how ONET compares to survey reports when measuring occupational exposures in analyses of socioeconomic status, work conditions, and health. We compare Health and Retirement Study (HRS, N = 16,683 working respondents) and ONET measurements of general physical activity, frequency of lifting/handling objects, and frequency of stooping-related postures required at work. Pearson correlations between the HRS items and corresponding ONET items vary from weak to moderate for lifting/handling and stooping-related postures to relatively large for general physical activity. Though they are measured on different scales, both the HRS and ONET measures of physical demands reveal similar sex, racial/ethnic, and educational differentials in exposure to physically strenuous work. We fit random effects Poisson models to assess how these measures predict accumulation of functional limitations, a potential long-term consequence of strenuous working conditions. Comparable HRS and ONET measures have similar associations with functional limitations. We also consider an average of physical demand items available in ONET, finding that this measure has similar associations with functional limitations as the ONET measure of general physical activity. These results suggest that O*NET characteristics and HRS respondent reports produce comparable disparities in physical work exposures (PWEs) and associations between physically demanding work and declines in physical functioning.

Citation Key11721