Childhood general mental ability and midlife psychosocial work characteristics as related to mental distress, neck/shoulder pain and self-rated health in working women and men

29 October 2012

Psychosocial work characteristics including high demands, lack of control and poor social support have consistently been linked to poor health as has poor general mental ability (GMA). However, less is known about the relationships between stable individual factors such as GMA, psychosocial work characteristics and health. Objective: The present study investigated how childhood mental ability and psychosocial work characteristics relate to health in terms of mental distress, neck/shoulder pain (NSP) and self-rated health (SRH). Methods: Data on childhood GMA, occupational level, self-reports of demands, control and social support and health (mental distress, NSP and SRH) in midlife came from working women (n=271) and men (n=291) included in a Swedish school cohort. Hierarchical regression analyses, controlling for occupational level, were used to examine associations between childhood GMA, self-reports of high demands, low control and poor social support and the three health indicators. Taking into consideration the gendered labor market and variations in health patterns between women and men, gender specific analyses were performed. Results: There were no significant associations between childhood GMA and health indicators. Further, there were no significant interactions between GMA and psychosocial work factors. As regards the strength of the associations between GMA, psychosocial work factors and health, no consistent differences emerged between women and men. Conclusions: In a cohort of healthy and working middle-aged women and men, self-reports of current psychosocial work characteristics seem to be more strongly linked to health, than are stable childhood factors such as GMA.