Effort-reward imbalance as a risk factor for disability pension: the Finnish Public Sector Study

Scand J Work Environ Health. 2014 May 1;40(3):266-77. doi: 10.5271/sjweh.3402. Epub 2013 Nov 18.


Objectives: Job strain has previously been shown to predict disability pension, but it is unknown whether effort-reward imbalance (ERI), another major stress model, is also associated with disability pension.

Methods: We examined ERI as a risk factor for diagnosis-specific disability pension in a cohort of 51 874 public-sector employees in Finland. To control for reporting bias, work unit-level scores of ERI (based on the survey responses of 35 260 employees in 2000-2002) were constructed and linked to all eligible employees. A sub-cohort of the respondents was analyzed also with individual-level ERI. Disability pension data were derived from national pension registers with no loss to follow-up. The outcomes were all-cause disability pension and disability pension due to depression, musculoskeletal diseases, and ischemic heart diseases (IHD). Multivariate Cox proportional hazard models (adjusted for sociodemographic factors, baseline health, and work-related characteristics) were used for analyses.

Results: During a mean 8.9 years of follow-up, 4542 participants were granted disability pension. An increased risk for disability pension due to depression was detected for both high work unit- and individual-level ERI [hazard ratio (HR) 1.63, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.31-2.04 and HR 1.90, 95% CI 1.51-2.40, respectively]. High individual-level ERI increased the risk of disability pension due to musculoskeletal diseases (HR 1.32, 95% CI 1.13-1.53), but no association was observed for work unit-level ERI (HR 1.02, 95% CI 0.88-1.19). ERI was not associated with disability pension due to IHD.

Conclusion: The present study showed a consistent association between high ERI and an increased risk of disability pension due to depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disabled Persons*
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pensions*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Public Sector
  • Reward*
  • Risk Factors