Health Status of Older US Workers and Nonworkers, National Health Interview Survey, 1997–2011

Kachan, Diana; Fleming, Lora E.; Christ, Sharon L.; Muennig, Peter A.; Prado, Guillermo; Tannenbaum, Stacey L.; Yang, Xuan; Caban-Martinez, Alberto J.; Lee, David J.


Many US workers are increasingly delaying retirement from work, which may be leading to an increase in chronic disease at the workplace. We examined the association of older adults’ health status with their employment/occupation and other characteristics.


National Health Interview Survey data from 1997 through 2011 were pooled for adults aged 65 or older (n = 83,338; mean age, 74.6 y). Multivariable logistic regression modeling was used to estimate the association of socioeconomic factors and health behaviors with 4 health status measures: 1) self-rated health (fair/poor vs good/very good/excellent); 2) multimorbidity (≤1 vs ≥2 chronic conditions); 3) multiple functional limitations (≤1 vs ≥2); and 4) Health and Activities Limitation Index (HALex) (below vs above 20th percentile). Analyses were stratified by sex and age (young–old vs old–old) where interactions with occupation were significant.


Employed older adults had better health outcomes than unemployed older adults. Physically demanding occupations had the lowest risk of poor health outcomes, suggesting a stronger healthy worker effect: service workers were at lowest risk of multiple functional limitations (odds ratio [OR], 0.82; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.71–0.95); and blue-collar workers were at lowest risk of multimorbidity (OR, 0.84; 95% CI, 0.74–0.97) and multiple functional limitation (OR, 0.84; 95% CI, 0.72–0.98). Hispanics were more likely than non-Hispanic whites to report fair/poor health (OR, 1.62; 95% CI, 1.52–1.73) and lowest HALex quintile (OR, 1.21; 95% CI, 1.13–1.30); however, they were less likely to report multimorbidity (OR, 0.78; 95% CI, 0.73–0.83) or multiple functional limitations (OR, 0.82; 95% CI, 0.77–0.88).


A strong association exists between employment and health status in older adults beyond what can be explained by socioeconomic factors (eg, education, income) or health behaviors (eg, smoking). Disability accommodations in the workplace could encourage employment among older adults with limitations.


Also Published In

Preventing Chronic Disease

More About This Work

Academic Units
Health Policy and Management
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Published Here
November 14, 2016