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The inconsistent mediating effects of psychosocial work characteristics on the education–health relationship


  • Qiu, Hanyao
  • Bures, Regina
  • Shehan, Constance L.


This study examined the relationship between psychosocial work characteristics and educational disparities in health. Informed by the evidence on the relationship between work pressure and higher education, we suggested reframing the distribution of psychosocial work characteristics in the context of education. We differentiated psychosocial work resources from demands and hypothesized that the inconsistent mediation effects of psychosocial resources and demands are associated with educational status. Using data from the 2008 National Study of Changing Workforce (NSCW), we found that psychosocial work resources and demands had inconsistent mediating effects on the education–health relationship. Higher educated employees were more likely to report autonomy, challenge and schedule control, but they were also more likely to experience overtime hours, job overload and work–family conflict. Work resources appeared to protect higher-educated workers from stress and health problems while work demands put them at risk of less favorable health outcomes. In addition we found that the ‘costs’ of psychosocial work demands were stronger among women, particularly those who were highly educated, suggesting that highly educated women did not reap the full health benefit of high educational attainment. Our findings illustrate that the observed positive associations between education and health mask important heterogeneity in the effects of psychosocial work characteristics. We discuss the implications of this study for health and family-based work policies.

Suggested Citation

  • Qiu, Hanyao & Bures, Regina & Shehan, Constance L., 2012. "The inconsistent mediating effects of psychosocial work characteristics on the education–health relationship," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(8), pages 1539-1546.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:75:y:2012:i:8:p:1539-1546
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.06.008

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Plaisier, Inger & de Bruijn, Jeanne G.M. & de Graaf, Ron & Have, Margreet ten & Beekman, Aartjan T.F. & Penninx, Brenda W.J.H., 2007. "The contribution of working conditions and social support to the onset of depressive and anxiety disorders among male and female employees," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 64(2), pages 401-410, January.
    2. Mark Wooden & Diana Warren & Robert Drago, 2009. "Working Time Mismatch and Subjective Well-being," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 47(1), pages 147-179, March.
    3. Borg, Vilhelm & Kristensen, Tage S., 2000. "Social class and self-rated health: can the gradient be explained by differences in life style or work environment?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 51(7), pages 1019-1030, October.
    4. Borrell, Carme & Muntaner, Carles & Benach, Joan & Artazcoz, Lucía, 2004. "Social class and self-reported health status among men and women: what is the role of work organisation, household material standards and household labour?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 58(10), pages 1869-1887, May.
    5. Warren, John Robert & Hoonakker, Peter & Carayon, Pascale & Brand, Jennie, 2004. "Job characteristics as mediators in SES-health relationships," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 59(7), pages 1367-1378, October.
    6. Schieman, Scott & Reid, Sarah, 2009. "Job authority and health: Unraveling the competing suppression and explanatory influences," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 69(11), pages 1616-1624, December.
    7. Monden, Christiaan W.S., 2005. "Current and lifetime exposure to working conditions. Do they explain educational differences in subjective health?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 60(11), pages 2465-2476, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Meyer, S.C. & Künn-Nelen, A.C., 2014. "Do occupational demands explain the educational gradient in health?," Research Memorandum 016, Maastricht University, Graduate School of Business and Economics (GSBE).
    2. Hämmig, Oliver & Gutzwiller, Felix & Kawachi, Ichiro, 2014. "The contribution of lifestyle and work factors to social inequalities in self-rated health among the employed population in Switzerland," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 74-84.


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