Physical Work Exposures of Older Workers: Does Measurement Make a Difference?

Theresa Andrasfay, Anne R. Pebley, Noreen Goldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Physically demanding work at later ages, which is especially prevalent among disadvantaged groups, is associated with long-term health outcomes and may contribute to health inequality over the life course. Past studies of these issues have relied on occupational characteristics from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), but few have assessed how O*NET compares to survey reports when measuring occupational exposures in analyses of socioeconomic status, work conditions, and health. We compare Health and Retirement Study (HRS, N = 16,683 working respondents) and O*NET measurements of general physical activity, frequency of lifting/handling objects, and frequency of stooping-related postures required at work. Pearson correlations between the HRS items and corresponding O*NET items vary from weak to moderate for lifting/handling and stooping-related postures to relatively large for general physical activity. Though they are measured on different scales, both the HRS and O*NET measures of physical demands reveal similar sex, racial/ethnic, and educational differentials in exposure to physically strenuous work. We fit random effects Poisson models to assess how these measures predict accumulation of functional limitations, a potential long-term consequence of strenuous working conditions. Comparable HRS and O*NET measures have similar associations with functional limitations. We also consider an average of physical demand items available in O*NET, finding that this measure has similar associations with functional limitations as the O*NET measure of general physical activity. These results suggest that O*NET characteristics and HRS respondent reports produce comparable disparities in physical work exposures (PWEs) and associations between physically demanding work and declines in physical functioning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-189
Number of pages11
JournalWork, Aging and Retirement
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)
  • Industrial relations
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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