The association of pain with labor force participation, absenteeism, and presenteeism in Spain

J Med Econ. 2011;14(6):835-45. doi: 10.3111/13696998.2011.632045. Epub 2011 Nov 9.


Objectives: The aims of this paper are to generate estimates of the association between the severity and frequency of pain in Spain and (i) labor force participation and workforce status and (ii) patterns of absenteeism and presenteeism for the employed workforce.

Methods: Data are from the internet-based 2010 National Health and Wellness Survey (NHWS). This survey covers both those who report experiencing pain in the last month as well as the no-pain population. An estimated 17.25% of adults in Spain report experiencing pain in the past month. A series of regression models are developed with the no-pain group as the reference category. The impact of pain, categorized by severity and frequency, is assessed within a labor supply framework for (i) labor force participation and (ii) absenteeism and presenteeism. Both binomial and multinomial logistic models are estimated.

Results: The results demonstrate that severe and moderate pain has a significant, substantive, and negative association with labor force participation and, together with the experience of mild pain, a substantive impact on absenteeism and presenteeism within the employed workforce. Compared to no-pain controls, the strongest association is seen in the case of severe pain, notably severe daily pain and labor force participation (odds ratio 0.363; 95% CI: 0.206-0.637). The association of severe pain with labor force participation is also significant (odds ratio 0.356; 95% CI: 0.217-0.585). There is a clear gradient in the association of pain severity and frequency with labor force participation. The impact of pain is far greater than the potential impact of other health status measures (e.g., chronic comorbidities and BMI). Labor force participation is also adversely associated with pain experience. Persons reporting severe daily pain are far more likely not to be in the labor force (relative probabilities 0.339 vs 0.611). The experience of pain, notably severe and frequent pain, also outstrips the impact of other health status factors in absenteeism and presenteeism. In the former case, the odds ratio associated with severe daily pain is 16.216 (95% CI: 5.127-51.283), which contrasts to the odds ratio for the Charlson comorbidity index of 1.460 (95%CI: 1.279-1.666). Similar results hold for presenteeism. The contribution of moderate and mild pain to absenteeism and presenteeism is more marked than for labor force participation.

Conclusions: The experience of pain, in particular severe daily pain, has a substantial negative impact both on labor force participation in Spain as well as reported absenteeism and presenteeism. As a measure of health status, it clearly has an impact that outstrips other health status measures. Whether or not pain is considered as a disease in its own right, the experience of chronic pain, as defined here, presents policy-makers with a major challenge. Programs to relieve the burden of pain in the community clearly have the potential for substantial benefits from societal, individual, and employer perspectives.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Comorbidity
  • Efficiency
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Status
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Spain / epidemiology
  • Young Adult