Non-Standard Employment and Health with Respect to Sense of Coherence and Social Capital

Acta Universitatis Tamperensis No. 1719

By Virpi Liukkonen
July 2012
Tampere University Press
ISBN: 9789514487705
125 pages
$82.50 Paper original

Non-standard employment has become an integral feature of labor markets in developed countries in recent decades at the same time as demands for flexibility of the labor force have increased. In the broadest sense of the concept, non-standard employment may be defined as any work where the criteria of the standard employment relationship, i.e. full-time, permanent salary employment with open ended contract, are not fulfilled. This dissertation examines the relationship between non-standard employment and health.

The studies are based on data obtained from three prospective cohort studies. In the Health and Social Support Study a representative sample of Finnish working age population was followed up for five years. In the Finnish Public Sector Study a cohort of permanent employees and in the Temporaries in Municipal Jobs Study a cohort of non-permanent employees was followed up for four years.

According to the results of the baseline survey, health is unevenly distributed along the core-periphery labor market structure in the Finnish workforce. Comparison of permanent and fixed-term employees did not reveal significant differences in self-rated health, chronic disease and depression. The first step of increase in health problems was seen between the fixed-term employees and the group that included various atypical employees and the unemployed receiving earnings-related allowance or participating in subsidy programs. A further step was observed between this group and the unemployed receiving only the low basic allowance.

In the follow-up study of municipal permanent and non-permanent employees, work-related sources of social capital at baseline, measured by trust in labor market (employment contract) and trust in co-worker support, and combined social job capital were associated with health at the end of the follow-up. Fixed-term employment was associated with better self-rated health and less psychological distress in women when compared with permanent employees. Trust in receiving support from co-workers was associated with better self-rated health in women. Low level of social job capital, i.e. the combination of subsidised employment with no trust in co-workers’ support, was associated with poor health in women.

Another longitudinal study of municipal employees showed that different employment trajectories carry different health risks. Among women with initially fixed-term contracts trajectories toward the periphery of the labor markets were associated with poorer self-rated health at end of the follow-up, while trajectories towards permanent employment were associated with low psychological distress at end of the follow-up. On the other hand, poor self-rated health at baseline was associated with a trajectory toward unstable employment.

Employment trajectories were also associated with changes in sense of coherence. The scores mainly improved more in employment trajectories directed to more stable employment than in trajectories directed to less stable employment. Particularly marked effects of employment trajectory on sense of coherence were seen in employees aged less than 30 years.

The study focused on sample attrition showed differences between standard and non-standard employees. Low sense of coherence predicted non-response in fixed-term employees and poor self-rated health predicted non-response and exit from the cohort in permanent employees.

In conclusion, when studying association between employment status and health it is important to classify employment status as accurately as possible. Different employment trajectories carry different risks to health, and cumulative exposure to different labor market positions from the beginning of the working careers needs explorations in particular in order to identify possible risk of adverse health effect in workers. Better knowledge and awareness of the risks also enable targeted occupational health interventions.

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