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May 19, 2021

Long working hours increase deaths from heart disease and stroke

Long working hours increase deaths from heart disease and stroke

A new article published in Environment International presenting data from the WHO and ILO reveals that long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29% increase since 2000. 

The latest estimates from the WHO and ILO suggest that in 2016, 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease due to having worked at least 55 hours a week. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42%; and from stroke by 19%.  

Men were particularly affected, at 72% of the deaths occurring. People living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions and middle-aged or older workers were also badly affected. 

The study concludes that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working a 35–40 hour week.

Longer working hours led to poor health outcomes as a result of stress, but also because longer hours led to workers being more likely to adopt health-harming behaviors, such as smoking and drinking, sleeping and exercising less, and consuming an unhealthy diet.

The WHO and ILO recommend the following actions for governments, employers, and workers:   

  • governments can introduce, implement, and enforce laws, regulations, and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time;
  • bipartite or collective bargaining agreements between employers and workers’ associations can arrange working time to be more flexible, while at the same time agreeing on a maximum number of working hours;
  • employees could share working hours to ensure that numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 or more per week. 

Ronald L. Oaxaca and Galiya Sagyndykova have investigated the effect of overtime regulations on employment for IZA World of Labor. “In addition to concerns about worker safety and well-being,” they write how “some policymakers are tempted to view maximum hours and overtime provisions as vehicles for creating jobs and thereby reducing unemployment.” But, Oaxaca and Sagyndykova warn that “the employment-boosting potential of overtime regulations disappears once workers and employers fully adjust to the regulations."

Adjustments include “production cutbacks in response to higher labor costs, increased moonlighting by workers whose overtime hours are cut, and the mismatch between the skill requirements of overtime jobs and the skill sets of unemployed workers.” Oaxaca and Sagyndykova note that “Given the diversity of national economies and political, economic, and social institutions, one size does not fit all.” They feel it is critical to understand what economic forces are set in motion by overtime regulations before creating policies to regulate overtime hours and pay.

The Evironment International article can be found here.

Read Ronald L. Oaxaca and Galiya Sagyndykova’s article in full here.

Find a range of IZA World of Labor content on the subject of personnel economics.