Health, Disability, and the Evolving Nature of Work

WP#2022-18

Abstract

This paper explores whether the evolving nature of work has impacted the relationship between health and work-related disability and disability applications through its impact on job demands.  Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, supplemented with data on job demands from the Occupational Requirement Survey and Occupational Information Network, we document trends in the association of health and functioning with the risk of experiencing a work-limiting health event and applying for or receiving disability benefits, and assess whether the changing composition of jobs and job demands impacts the strength of this relationship.

The paper found that:

  • Job requirements, in particular as they relate to work flexibility and physical demands, are important determinants of disability (DI) applications even accounting for personal health, demographic, and socioeconomic characteristics.
  • The relationship between health status and disability applications partially varies by job demands and that relationship is changing over time. For example, the positive relationship between having two or more doctor-diagnosed health conditions and DI applications is attenuated as job flexibility increases and amplified as physical job requirements increase.  Moreover, the magnitude of these effects has been larger since the Great Recession.
  • Changes over time in job demands are driven primarily by within-occupation changes, meaning that the same jobs have higher requirements today than in the past. DI applicants, in contrast to other workers, their jobs have become more physically demanding over time and they are much more likely to be working in physically demanding jobs. At the same time, their jobs have become more cognitively demanding over time but they are less likely to be working in cognitively demanding jobs.

 
The policy implications of the findings are:

  • Understanding how the evolving nature of work has impacted the relationship between health and work-related disability and disability applications is important for providing benefits to those most in need.

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