Structural changes in the workforce should be taken into account when analysing trends in work disability

The Finnish population is ageing faster than people in other European countries. The recent economic crisis led to severe changes in the labour market, characterized by an increase in unemployment, underemployment and job insecurity and by a reduction of certain types of jobs. In a recent nationwide register-based study we observed that the employment rate among 30-59 year old persons decreased from 75.3 to 74.7% between 2006 and 2012. More men than women left work by the end of each year, with the most common path being transition to unemployment. The largest decrease in the proportion of working men was seen among skilled manual workers, followed by unskilled manual workers.

A downward trend in disability retirement has been observed since 2000. However, the validity of crude trend estimates is sensitive to the comparability of the underlying population in different time periods. The estimates might be affected by changes in the composition of the general population and a reduction of the workforce.

In our study we used propensity score (PS) matching to control for the potential contribution of changes in the composition of the workforce to occupational differences in disability retirement trends. We found different results regarding the estimate of disability retirement rates, shape of the trends, as well as magnitude of the changes between the crude and propensity matched estimates. Particularly, a downward trend of disability retirements between 2007 and 2013 observed in the original study population for all occupational classes could not be seen in the PS matched population. Furthermore, controlling for structural changes in the workforce revealed widening occupational class differences in disability retirement during the period of economic stagnation.

Our findings suggest that structural changes in the workforce should be taken into account when analysing trends in ill-health. Decision makers should not rely only on raw statistics on work disability during fluctuating economic circumstances.

Svetlana Solovieva, PhD, Adjunct Professor, Senior Researcher
Finnish Institute of Occupational Health

Reference

Solovieva S, Leinonen T, Husgafvel-Pursiainen K, Kauhanen A, Vanhala P, Asplund R, Viikari-Juntura E. Controlling for structural changes in the workforce influenced occupational class differences in disability retirement trends. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2019; 16(9):1523; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16091523.

 

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