Women who are permanently injured in a work accident are less likely to marry than their uninjured counterparts, according to a new study from the Institute for Work & Health (IWH). The same, however, does not appear to hold true for men.
According to the study, published in the January 2013 issue of Disability and Health (vol. 6, no 1, pp. 43-51, doi:10.1016/j.dhjo.2012.10.001), permanently disabled men were also at a disadvantage in the marriage market, but this was largely driven by their tendency to earn less.
Once we took earnings into account, the effect of the work disability on the likelihood of men getting married disappeared, says IWH Associate Scientist Dr. Heather Scott-Marshall, the lead researcher on this study.
By contrast, women with a permanent disability were less likely to get married no matter how much they earned.
Study explores effects on personal life
Scott-Marshall decided to look at the impact of permanent work injuries on marriage because she was struck by the lack of research in this area.
Workplace injury resulting in a permanent impairment can alter the course of a person’s life, she says.
Yet most studies in this area neglect the impact of injury on milestones like marriage.
Scott-Marshall drew on research that shows that social support and intimate partnerships are key to effective rehabilitation post-injury. She figured that, if a permanent work disability reduces the likelihood of getting married, this could lead to isolation and reduced self-worth, making recovery and return to work (RTW) more difficult.
In this study, Scott-Marshall and her team linked information from two sources. Work injury information (e.g. date of accident, degree of impairment) from the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) was linked to personal information (e.g. marriage status, income) from Revenue Canada’s Longitudinal Administrative Databank (LAD).
In the WSIB data, the researchers found 348 men and 189 women of prime marrying age (25 to 40 years) who were permanently impaired as a result of a work accident in 1990 to 1994. Each of these men and women was matched with up to 10 others in the LAD who, except for the work injury, were similar in all other respects (e.g. age, gender, income, number of children, rural-verus-urban residence, etc.). The comparison group included 2,137 men and 1,071 women. The researchers then looked at time to marriage (including common-law unions) in the injured and uninjured groups for a period of 10 years post-accident.
Different outcomes for women and men
The researchers found that women with a permanent work injury were 17 per cent less likely to marry than their counterparts in the comparison group. And women with higher levels of physical impairment (i.e. greater than 10 per cent loss in bodily function, according to guidelines of the American Medical Association) were even less likely to marry: 22 per cent less likely than the comparison group.
On the other hand, men with a permanent work impairment were just as likely to marry as their uninjured counterparts, as long as they earned about the same amount of money.
These findings are consistent with other research showing that men and women value different things when choosing a mate, says Scott-Marshall.
Women tend to put a premium on education, social status and earnings potential when selecting a partner, whereas men assign greater importance to qualities such as youth, physical attractiveness and health, she explains.
Findings of interest to rehab providers
For Scott-Marshall, the findings point to the need for occupational rehabilitation service providers to be aware of all the potential barriers to re-engaging in the working world, including personal and social barriers.
Our study draws attention to the potential for stigma and social isolation of injured workers, which we believe could have implications for recovery, she says.
Specifically, the lack of marriage prospects for permanently injured workers could be psychologically challenging and affect their ability to resume productive social roles.
It is possible that one reason permanently impaired workers experience difficulty returning to work is that they have problems with adjustment and coping that derive, ultimately, from a lack of supportive relationships, says Scott-Marshall.
This is something occupational rehabilitation providers may need to address.
Scott-Marshall’s study is part of a growing body of work looking at the consequences of permanent work injuries. Another study looking at mental health among permanently impaired workers is profiled in the box at right. Both studies were conducted under the umbrella of the Research Action Alliance on the Consequences of Work Injury, a community/academic alliance that included a number of researchers from the Institute for Work & Health (for information, see the Spring 2012 issue of At Work).