Studying the impact of precarious work on health

Monday, February 18, 2019

Anjum Hajat, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health, has received a four-year, nearly $1.4 million research grant from the National Institutes of Health to study “precarious work” and how it contributes to health disparities in the United States.

Precarious work refers to the poor conditions that define the employer-employee relationship and includes issues such as low wages, temporary work and long working hours. The objective of the study is to use novel approaches to better understand the role of precarious work in explaining differences in the incidence and prevalence of diseases and mortality.

“Our study examines how declining employment quality, including things like non-standard work and fewer benefits, may be contributing to the widening of health disparities,” Hajat said. “Since employment is amenable to change, either through policy or employer-specific initiatives, this study has the potential to improve the health of millions of American workers.”

Hajat and her research team – which includes UW co-investigators Marco Carone, Noah Seixas, Trevor Peckham, Daniel Jacoby and Kyle Crowder – plan to use two complementary representative longitudinal data sources: The Health and Retirement Survey, which tracks people as they transition from work to retirement, and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which has been following a cohort for over 40 years.

Researchers will construct a longitudinal work history, including metrics of precarious work for both cohorts. Using these metrics, the study will evaluate the mediating role of precarious work in explaining disparities in self-reported health, mental health and mortality. Researchers will also compare the contribution of precarious work relative to other pathways, such as health behaviors and hazardous working conditions, in producing disparities in these same health outcomes. Additionally, the study will examine how employer-based and state policies that relate to precarious work impact health disparities.

Carone is assistant professor of biostatistics, Seixas is a professor of environmental and occupational health sciences, and Peckham is a doctoral student in environmental and occupational health sciences, all at the UW School of Public Health. Jacoby is a professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at UW Bothell and Crowder is the Blumstein-Jordon Professor of Sociology in the UW’s Department of Sociology.