Occupational and social variation in subjective health complaints

Occup Med (Lond). 2003 Jun;53(4):270-8. doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqg060.


Objectives: Occupational and social factors are thought to be important determinants of health inequality. The aim of this study was to examine the relationships between occupation, lifestyle and subjective health complaints (SHC).

Methods: SHC and self-reported sickness absence were recorded in a cross-sectional study of 662 individuals aged between 16 and 67 from five occupational groups: blue-collar, school/education, health service, white-collar and service. Differences in SHC and sickness absence were investigated. A model of sociodemographic, lifestyle and work-related factors was tested to examine associations with SHC.

Results: Few differences in SHC and sickness absence were found when educational level, age and gender were controlled for. Female health service workers did, however, show significantly higher prevalence of pseudoneurological complaints compared with white-collar workers. Male blue-collar workers had significantly higher frequency of sickness absence than white-collar workers; otherwise, there were no significant differences in frequency and duration of sickness absence. The model explained very little of the variance of SHC (R(2)(adj) = 0.15) and occupational group was not significantly associated with health. Physical workload and sleep quality showed significant relationships with SHC for both genders. Education, however, was a significant factor for women only.

Conclusions: The differences in health found between major occupational groups in this sample were mainly explained by gender differences. Sociodemographic, lifestyle and work-related factors explained little of the variance in SHC, suggesting that factors such as psychological demands, perceived job stress, coping and other psychological factors might be of stronger importance for SHC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Nervous System Diseases / epidemiology
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology
  • Occupations*
  • Prevalence
  • Self-Assessment
  • Sex Factors
  • Sick Leave
  • Socioeconomic Factors