Work-related insecurity a health risk — for some more than others

In Brief

  • Several types of work-related insecurity – specifically, low pay, no yearly pay increase and working a lot of unpaid overtime hours – are associated with poorer general health in workers.
  • The harmful effects of work-related insecurity are worse for some groups. In older workers, lack of pension coverage and annual pay increases is linked to declining health. In visible minorities, the absence of a yearly pay increase is associated with poorer health.
  • The longer people are faced with work-related insecurity, the worse their health, which suggests the health effects of sustained exposure to work-related insecurity are cumulative.

Why was this study done?

Women, older workers (aged 45 to 54) and visible minorities make up an increasing percentage of the Canadian workforce. This study set out to examine if these workers are more susceptible to the health effects of work-related insecurity than their counterparts: men, younger workers and non-visible minorities. Work-related insecurity was defined as having low pay, no yearly pay increase, limited opportunity for job promotion, no pension coverage, no union protection, and/or working substantial unpaid overtime hours.

How was the study done?

Researchers drew from Statistics Canada’s Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID) from 1999 to 2004. SLID collects information each year on personal characteristics, job factors and self-reported health. A group of 2,361 individuals was selected according to the following criteria in 1999: 25 to 54 years of age, not a full-time student, employed at least nine months of the year, not self-employed, not a manager, and in good, very good or excellent health. Work-related insecurity was also measured using the SLID.

What did the researchers find?

Some aspects of work-related insecurity were associated with significant health declines in all workers. Each additional year of having to work substantial unpaid overtime hours was associated with a decrease in employees’ self-rated health. Earning low wages and having no annual pay increase were also linked with decreases in self-rated health. The negative effects were worse for some groups. The health of older workers without pension coverage declined more than older workers with coverage. For visible minority workers, no yearly pay increase was associated greater declines in self-rated health. No significant differences in the effects of work-related insecurity were detected between men and women.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

By including only workers who were in good health, the researchers were more confident that the results were not due to the fact that unhealthy people may work in less secure jobs (called “reverse causality”). One limitation is that the measures of work-related insecurity lacked information on workers’ perceptions of their jobs. For example, some workers with lower wages or limited job promotion prospects may be content with their situations.

Publication Information


The social patterning of work-related insecurity and its health consequences


Scott-Marshall H


Social Indicators Research, 2009: vol. 96, no. 2, pp. 313-337