Seminar Presentation 7-2

7-2 (Presentation within Topical Seminar 7):
A comparison of middle- and older-aged workers with arthritis: Are we overlooking the impact on the middle-aged?

Presented by: Monique A.M. Gignac


Gignac MAM1,2

  1. Institute for Work & Health
  2. Toronto Western Research Institute, University Health Network, Toronto, ON, Canada



Arthritis is often depicted as a disease of older age. Yet, 60% of those with arthritis are under 65 years of age with most individuals in their prime earning years (40-65 years). Life span theories suggest that the occurrence of a chronic disease at a time of life that is not normative may be associated with greater distress and difficulties than the occurrence of a disease at a time considered normative. This research compared middle-aged workers (40-54 years), many of whom might perceive their arthritis as occurring early in life, to older workers (55< years) in work stress, transitions made to working and use of job accommodations and modifications.


Data were drawn from three separate community samples of people with inflammatory arthritis (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis) and osteoarthritis (total n = 1,021; 75.2% female). Respondents were recruited using community advertising and from rheumatology and rehabilitation clinics. Participants completed interview-administered, structured questionnaires assessing demographic, health, workplace and psychosocial variables. Two samples (n = 352, n = 492) are each comprised of 2 and 4 waves of data, respectively. Analyses included multiple linear regression and generalized estimation equations to model predictors of work transitions over time.


Findings indicated that, despite age similarities in pain, fatigue, and workplace activity limitations, younger age was significantly associated with greater perceived role conflict in managing health and work demands and a trend for greater perceived arthritis-work stress. Overall, older age was significantly associated with fewer work transitions, although older workers were significantly more likely to report reducing their hours and leaving the labour force. For the most part, there were no significant differences in reports of job accommodations and use of benefits related to age.


The findings have implications for understanding work disability and the development of programs to sustain employment. They suggest that the impact of chronic diseases, especially in terms of the psychological meaning of illnesses like arthritis, may vary at different life phases and highlight diverse needs across the career life span.