The burden of arthritis in the aging workforce is disproportionately felt among blue-collar and low-income populations, according to a study published online in the American Journal of Public Health. This is particularly problematic, note the authors, because it is often the lower-income individuals who, for financial reasons, need to remain in the workforce longer, despite greater health problems than white-collar workers.  

“The message here is that blue-collar workers are in trouble,” says Alberto Cabán-Martinez, DO, lead author and at the time of the study a professor in the department of epidemiology and public health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida. Dr. Caban-Martinez’ findings show they need to stay in the workforce longer because of financial insecurity, but are retiring earlier due to a “disproportional amount of arthritis.”

Dr. Cabán-Martinez’s team looked at data from almost 18,000 people aged 18 and older derived from the National Health Interview Survey, or NHIS, and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, or MEPS, as well as the National Death Index. Subjects were sorted in four occupational categories: white collar, blue collar, service and farming.

They found that, in workers aged 65 and older, approximately 67 percent of farmers, 58 percent of those in service, 51 percent in white-collar occupations and 47 percent of those in blue-collar jobs had arthritis. Blue-collar workers may have lower numbers because they were much more likely to leave the workforce if they had arthritis than the other groups.

The results showed that white-collar workers have a higher health-related quality of life at all ages than others in the workforce, and blue-collar workers have the lowest. The study found that 25-year-old white-collar workers with arthritis will live healthily for 39 more years, while blue-collar workers with arthritis will have 33 more quality years. Of the four groups, blue-collar workers retire earlier, and have poorer health as they age.

Dr. Cabán-Martinez says experts speculate that blue-collar, service and farm workers tend to have higher rates of arthritis than white-collar workers because they are more physically active.

“A construction worker outside with a jackhammer is doing something very different every day than someone sitting in an office writing a report,” he says. “Blue-collar workers on the whole tend to be more physically active and put more of a burden on their joints.”