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September 2002, Vol. 125, No. 9
Work shifts and disability: a national view
Harriet B. Presser and Barbara Altman
The United States is moving toward a 24-hour economy, driven by economic, technological, and demographic changes. As of 1997, 1 out of 5 employed Americans worked nonstandard hours—evenings, nights, or rotating shifts. Moreover, job growth over the next decade is likely to be disproportionately in those occupations with a high prevalence of late and rotating hours of employment.1
Although sociologists and other labor force scholars have paid considerable attention to the employment status of Americans and the number of hours they work, those same researchers have generally ignored the issue of which hours they work. Furthermore, whereas scholars have examined extensively the work histories of certain disadvantaged groups, such as racial and ethnic minorities and women, far less attention has been paid to an important—and growing—subgroup: persons with disabilities.
This article explores the relationship between work shifts and disability among U.S. workers. The term "work shift" refers to employment in which most hours worked are during the day, evening, or night or on a rotating basis (for example, changing on a regular basis from day to evening or day to night). The article does not examine whether people do some of their work on shifts other than the one on which they are mostly engaged.
In general, late and rotating shifts are regarded as less desirable. While some people may prefer to work those shifts, most who work such schedules give job-related requirements, rather than family or other personal considerations, as their main reason for doing so.2 The literature indicates that there is an increased risk of various negative physiological, psychological, and social consequences for those who work late or rotating shifts rather than fixed days.3
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1 Harriet B. Presser, "Toward a 24-Hour Economy," Science, June 11, 1999, pp. 1778–79.
2 Harriet B. Presser, "Job, Family, and Gender: Determinants of Nonstandard Work Schedules among Employed Americans in 1991," Demography, November 1995, pp. 577–98.
3 See, for example, Biological Rhythms: Implications for the Worker, OTA-BA–463 (Office of Technology Assessment, 1991); and Harriet B. Presser, "Nonstandard Work Schedules and Marital Instability," Journal of Marriage and the Family, February 2000, pp. 93–110.
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Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey
and shift work: replacing the '9-to-5' workday?.—June.
Entry into and consequences of nonstandard work arrangements.—Oct. 1996.
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