Background: The social gradient in disability pension is well recognized, however mechanisms accounting for the gradient are largely unknown. The aim of this study was to examine the association between occupational class and subsequent disability pension among middle-aged men and women, and to what extent work-related factors accounted for the association.
Methods: A subsample (N = 7031) of the population-based Hordaland Health Study (HUSK) conducted in 1997-99, provided self-reported information on health and work-related factors, and were grouped in four strata by Erikson, Goldthorpe and Portocareros occupational class scheme. The authors obtained follow-up data on disability pension by linking the health survey to national registries of benefit (FD-trygd). They employed Cox regression analysis and adjusted for gender, health (medical conditions, mental health, self-perceived health, somatic symptoms) and work-related factors (working hours, years in current occupation, physical demands, job demands, job control).
Results: A strong gradient in disability pension by occupational class was found. In the fully adjusted model the risk (hazard ratio) ranged from 1.41 (95% CI 0.84 to 2.33) in the routine non-manual class, 1.87 (95% CI 1.07 to 3.27) in the skilled manual class and 2.12 (95% CI 1.14 to 3.95) in the unskilled manual class, employing the administrator and professional class as reference. In the gender and health-adjusted model work-related factors mediated the impact of occupational class on subsequent disability pension with 5% in the routine non-manual class, 26% in the skilled manual class and 24% in the unskilled manual class. The impact of job control and physical demands was modest, and mainly seen among skilled and unskilled manual workers.
Conclusions: Workers in the skilled and unskilled manual classes had a substantial unexplained risk of disability pension. Work-related factors only had a moderate impact on the disability risk. Literature indicates an accumulation of hazards in the manual classes. This should be taken into account when interpreting the gradient in disability pension.