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Women's Safety and Health Issues at Work

5 women stnading side by side

America's work force has changed in the last 50 years. Though men still outnumber women in the workforce, the percent of women working has steadily increased from 34% in 1950s to 60% today. The percent of men working has been decreasing during this time, from 84% in the 50s to only 73% working today. 1

Women are now marrying later in life, staying in school longer, delaying childbirth, and having fewer children than in previous years. 2 More women are choosing to continue working while also balancing the traditional parenting responsibilities. 1

Work-related health challenges facing women

Women face different workplace health challenges than men. This is partly because men and women tend to have different kinds of jobs. 3 Women generally have more work-related cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, respiratory diseases, infectious and parasitic diseases, and anxiety and stress disorders. 4 Social, economic, and cultural factors also put women at risk for injury and illness. For example, women are more likely than men to do contingent work part-time, temporary, or contract work. Compared to workers in traditional job arrangements, contingent workers have lower incomes and fewer benefits. Like all workers in insecure jobs, women may fear that bringing up a safety issue could result in job loss or more difficult work situations. They may also be less likely to report a work-related injury.

Within America's workforce, immigrant women are a particularly at-risk group. They face barriers related to their immigrant status as well as issues in balancing work, home, and family. Compared to native-born women, immigrant women work in industries and jobs with much higher injury rates. 5

Sexist treatment and gender discrimination in the workplace can affect a woman's physical and mental health. Sexual harassment can lead to

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • lower self-esteem
  • alienation
  • insomnia
  • nausea
  • headaches

Balancing work and family tasks can put additional stress on women, who in many families still take primary responsibility for childcare and eldercare. When family and work demands collide, the resulting stress can lead to physical health problems such as poor appetite, lack of sleep, increase in blood pressure, fatigue, and increased susceptibility to infection. It can also result in mental health problems such as burnout and depression.

Learn more about these issues and others facing women workers:

 

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Women at work: a visual essay. 2003. [Cited on January 28, 2008].
  2. Toossi, M. A century of change: the U.S. labor force, 1950-2050. Monthly Labor Review Online. 2002.
  3. Hoskins, A. Occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities among women. Monthly Labor Review Online. 2005.
  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job-related deaths are less likely for women. 1998. Cited on January 11, 2008].
  5. Orrenius PM, Zavodny M [2009]. Do Immigrants Work in Riskier Jobs? Demography 46 (3) 535-551.
 
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  • Page last reviewed: June 19, 2013
  • Page last updated: June 19, 2013
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