International Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 21, Issue 6, pp 899–907 | Cite as

Stressful and Traumatic Life Events are Associated with Burnout—A Cross-Sectional Twin Study

  • Lisa MatherEmail author
  • Victoria Blom
  • Pia Svedberg



Most burnout studies focus on symptoms of burnout in relation to work-related stress. However, recent studies have found that familial factors and stress in the personal life may also be of importance. Stressful and traumatic life events influence how individuals cope with stress over the life course and may therefore be associated with burnout symptoms.


This study aims to assess the associations between stressful and traumatic life events and burnout symptoms in a population-based sample of twins, adjusting for familial confounding.


In this cross-sectional questionnaire-based study of 25,378 Swedish twins, odds ratios (OR) with 95 % confidence intervals (CI) were calculated using logistic regression analysis. First, the whole sample was analysed. Secondly, a matched co-twin analysis was conducted of the same-sex twin pairs discordant on burnout, in order to adjust for familial factors.


A history of traumatic life events was independently associated with burnout symptoms, with a cumulative effect with increasing number of events. ORs adjusted for familial confounding: 1–3 events OR 1.58 (CI = 1.21–2.07) 4 or more events OR 2.00 (CI = 1.45–2.75). Independent associations between the stressful life events: serious family problems OR 1.71 (CI = 1.36–2.15), physical illness OR 1.44 (CI = 1.17–1.77), divorce or separation OR 1.40 (CI = 1.15–1.70), and burnout symptoms were also found.


The results indicate that stressful and traumatic life events are of importance in the burnout process. This finding may have implications in efforts to prevent burnout.


Burnout professional Stress psychological Life change events Twins Mental disorders 



This study was supported by the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research (2009-0548). The Swedish Twin Registry was supported by the Department of Higher Education, AstraZeneca and the Swedish Research Council. STAGE was supported by the National Institute of Health, USA, grants DK 066134 and CA 085739.

Conflict of interest

None of the authors have any conflict of interest to disclose.


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Copyright information

© International Society of Behavioral Medicine 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Insurance Medicine, Department of Clinical NeuroscienceKarolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden

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