Gender differences in the healthy worker effect among synthetic vitreous fiber workers

C. Suzanne Lea, Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Aage Andersen, Jenny Chang-Claude, Jørgen H. Olsen, Angela C. Pesatori, Lyly Teppo, Peter Westerholm, Paul D. Winter, Paolo Boffetta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The aim of this study was to determine whether the healthy worker effect and its component parts operate similarly for women and men. A cohort of workers from 14 synthetic vitreous fiber factories in seven countries, employed for at least 1 year between 1933 and 1977 and followed up to the early 1990s, included 375 deaths and 53,608 person-years among females and 2,568 deaths and 210,073 person-years among males. Standardized mortality ratios for all-cause and circulatory diseases were adjusted for country, age, calendar time, and gender. In addition, internal comparisons were adjusted for time since hire and employment status. The analyses addressed the following: 1) the healthy hire effect, 2) the time since hire effect, and 3) the healthy worker survivor effect. In this cohort, an overall healthy worker effect was not present in either gender. The healthy hire effect, based on standardized mortality ratios for years 1-4 since hire was observed in males (standardized mortality ratio (SMR) = 0.8; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.7, 1.0) but was less in females (SMR = 0.9; 95% CI: 0.5, 1.6). The relative risks increased slightly with time since hire in males but not in females. Higher mortality ratios were seen among those leaving employment than among those who remained actively employed; however, this effect was substantially greater for women (relative risk (RR) = 3.4; 95% CI: 1.8, 6.3) than men (RR = 1.8; 95% CI: 1.5, 2.1). The gender difference for active versus inactive status was stronger up to age 60 (men: RR = 1.7; 95% CI: 1.4, 2.0; women: RR = 3.6; 95% CI: 1.8, 7.1) than above that age. In conclusion, it appears that there is a stronger selection of healthy men than women into the workforce, while health-related selection out of the workforce is stronger for women than men.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1099-1106
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Nov 15 1999


  • Cohort studies
  • Healthy worker effect
  • Occupational health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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