Lifetime job demands and later life disability


Occupational characteristics may improve or harm health later in life. Previous research, largely based on limited exposure periods, reached mixed conclusions. We use Health and Retirement Study data linked to the Department of Labor’s ONet job classification system to examine the relationship between lifetime exposure to occupational demands and disability later in life. We consistently find an association between non-routine cognitive demands and lower rates of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) receipt and work-limiting health conditions. Routine manual demands are associated with moderately worse health and increased SSDI receipt in most lifetime specifications. These results are robust to various specifications of occupational demand measures and controlling for transitions between jobs of different levels of occupational intensity. We show that failure to account for job characteristic exposure early in a worker’s tenure obscures the relationship between physical job demands and disability later in life. While characteristics of jobs worked at ages 30 and 55 are both predictive of later-life health outcomes, early-life job characteristics frequently dominate in models containing early and late exposures.

The Journal of the Economics of Ageing