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Long working hours linked to female depression

Tuesday February 26th, 2019

Women who work more than 55 hours a week face increased risk of suffering from depression, researchers report today.

Previous research into long working hours and the potential impact on mental health has focused on men or specific jobs, but the UCL-led observational study, with Queen Mary University of London, UK, looked at both sexes.

Using the Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), which has been tracking the health and wellbeing of 40,000 households across the UK since 2009, researchers examined data for 11,215 men and 12,188 women from the second wave of the UKHLS in 2010-12.

Using 35 to 40 hours as a standard working week, the team categorised the participants as working fewer than 35; 41-55 (long working hours); and 55 and above (extra long working hours).

They found that for both sexes, older workers, smokers, and those who earned the least and who had the least job control were more depressed.

However, the team found evidence of gender differences in working patterns.

Their study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, reports that women who worked 55 or more hours a week and/or who worked most or every weekend had the worst mental health of all, with significantly more depressive symptoms than women working standard hours.

Women who worked extra-long hours had 7.3% more depressive symptoms than women working a standard 35-40 week, while women who worked for all or most weekends had 4.6% more depressive symptoms on average compared to women working only weekdays.

Men who worked all or most weekends had 3.4% more depressive symptoms than men working only weekdays.

The researchers suggest that women are more likely to work longer hours in male dominated occupations - while those working weekends tend to be concentrated in low paid service sector jobs.

Lead author Gill Weston, of UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care, said: “Women in general are more likely to be depressed than men, and this was no different in the study.

“Independent of their working patterns, we also found that workers with the most depressive symptoms were older, on lower incomes, smokers, in physically demanding jobs, and who were dissatisfied at work.

“We hope our findings will encourage employers and policy-makers to think about how to reduce the burdens and increase support for women who work long or irregular hours – without restricting their ability to work when they wish to.

“More sympathetic working practices could bring benefits both for workers and for employers – of both sexes.”

Weston G, Zilanawala A, Webb E et al. Long work hours, weekend working and depressive symptoms in men and women: findings from a UK population-based study. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 26 February 2019; doi 10.1136/jech-211309

Tags: Mental Health | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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