Work characteristics associated with physical functioning in women

Aimee J. Palumbo, J. Anneclaire, Carolyn Cannuscio, Lucy Robinson, Jana Mossey, Julie Weitlauf, Lorena Garcia, Robert Wallace, Yvonne Michael

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Women make up almost half of the labor force with older women becoming a growing segment of the population. Work characteristics influence physical functioning and women are at particular risk for physical limitations. However, little research has explored the effects of work characteristics on women’s physical functioning. U.S. women between the ages of 50 and 79 were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study between 1993 and 1998. Women provided job titles and years worked at their three longest-held jobs (n = 79,147). Jobs were linked to characteristics in the Occupational Information Network. Three categories of job characteristics related to substantive complexity, physical demand, and social collaboration emerged. The association between job characteristics and physical limitations in later life, measured using a SF-36 Physical Functioning score <25th percentile, was examined using modified Poisson regression. After controlling for confounding variables, high physical demand was positively associated with physical limitations (RR = 1.09 CI: 1.06–1.12) and substantively complex work was negatively associated (RR = 0.94, CI: 0.91–0.96). Jobs requiring complex problem solving, active learning, and critical thinking were associated with better physical functioning. Employers should explore opportunities to reduce strain from physically demanding jobs and incorporate substantively complex tasks into women’s work to improve long-term health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number424
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 15 2017


  • Physical function
  • Social environment
  • Women’s health
  • Workplace

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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