The European Journal of Health Economics

, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 693–709 | Cite as

Health, work and working conditions: a review of the European economic literature

  • Thomas Barnay
Original Paper


Economists have traditionally been very cautious when studying the interaction between employment and health because of the two-way causal relationship between these two variables: health status influences the probability of being employed and, at the same time, working affects the health status. Because these two variables are determined simultaneously, researchers control endogeneity skews (e.g., reverse causality, omitted variables) when conducting empirical analysis. With these caveats in mind, the literature finds that a favourable work environment and high job security lead to better health conditions. Being employed with appropriate working conditions plays a protective role on physical health and psychiatric disorders. By contrast, non-employment and retirement are generally worse for mental health than employment, and overemployment has a negative effect on health. These findings stress the importance of employment and of adequate working conditions for the health of workers. In this context, it is a concern that a significant proportion of European workers (29 %) would like to work fewer hours because unwanted long hours are likely to signal a poor level of job satisfaction and inadequate working conditions, with detrimental effects on health. Thus, in Europe, labour-market policy has increasingly paid attention to job sustainability and job satisfaction. The literature clearly invites employers to take better account of the worker preferences when setting the number of hours worked. Overall, a specific “flexicurity” (combination of high employment protection, job satisfaction and active labour-market policies) is likely to have a positive effect on health.


Work Health Working conditions Employment 

JEL Classification

I18 I28 J28 J81 



I would like to thank Carissa Faulkner (OECD), Nathalie Greenan (Cee), Christine Le Clainche (Cee, Ens Cachan, Lameta), Patrick Lenain (OECD), Pierre-Jean Messe (Cee), Catherine Pollak (Drees) and Yann Videau (Upec, Erudite) for their comments on a preliminary version and Eric Defebvre (Upec, Erudite) for his help on Health at Work European policies. This research has been funded by the OECD Economics Department.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsRouen UniversityRouen Cedex 1France

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