Gender, work and health

Institute for Work & Health (IWH) Scientist Dr. Peter Smith holds one of nine research chairs in gender, work and health awarded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). His five-year research program, running from 2014-2018, is exploring how sex and gender shape risk of work injury, time off work after a work injury, and the relationship between the work environment and chronic illness.

About the chair

Smith’s chair is one of nine research chairs in gender, work and health awarded in 2013. The research chairs were launched by the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health in partnership with the CIHR Institute of Musculoskeletal Health and Arthritis, the CIHR Institute of Population and Public Health, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) and the Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST).

Smith’s chair is looking in particular at the role of gender and sex in three different work-related areas: (1) risk of work injury, (2) recovery and return to work following work injury, and (3) the relationship between the psychosocial work environment (e.g. low job control, psychological demands) and chronic illness (e.g. development of hypertension and diabetes).

Watch this short video to learn more from Smith about his aims for his five-year research program.

Why gender, work and health research is important

Women and men tend to work in different industries or, when they do work in the same industries or jobs, what they do differs in practice. This potentially affects occupational exposures and outcomes.

There is strong evidence supporing the importance of considering gender and sex in research on work and health and the policies, programs and interventions that stem from that research. Yet there is still far to go in ensuring that gender and sex are integral aspects of work and health research, policy and program interventions. The CIHR research chairs hope to help fill this gap.

Women make up nearly half of labour force participants, yet much of what we know about the relationship between working conditions and health is based on measures developed for men and frameworks tested in male-dominated workplaces, says Smith. By engaging with leading occupational health and safety stakeholders throughout the research process, this new research knowledge will help shape the development of gender- and sex-sensitive policies and practices to improve the health of all working Canadians.

The difference between gender and sex

“Gender” typically refers to socially constructed roles, relationships, behaviours, relative power and other traits that societies ascribe to women, men and people of diverse gender identities. “Sex” is typically understood to refer to the biological and physiological characteristics that distinguish females from males. Together, gender and sex play an important role in determining health experiences, access to care and treatment outcomes.

The launch of the chair

Smith’s chair was officially launched on Tuesday, October 14, 2014, at an IWH plenary held at the University of Toronto. Read the At Work article about the launch.

Research to date

Smith’s interest in the field of gender, work and health stems from previous research that showed differing and unexpected outcomes based on gender and sex. For example:

  • Low job control is associated with an increased risk of hypertension among men, but not women.

Read the media release.

Read the At Work article.

Read the study.

  • Low job control is associated with an increased risk of diabetes among women, but not men.

Read the media release.

Read the At Work article.

Read the study.