How does arthritis affect employment? Longitudinal evidence on 18,000 British adults with arthritis compared to matched controls

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

March 15, 2023



One in ten working age people in the UK live with arthritis or a similar condition affecting their joints. This impacts their quality of life, including through their work. But little is known about how arthritis affects labour market outcomes and the types of people most likely to be affected.

Data from three population-representative household panel surveys (BHPS, ELSA, UKHLS) collected in 2001–2019 was harmonised. Propensity score matching was used to match 18,014 UK adults aged 18–80 who have arthritis with comparable adults without arthritis. The relationship between arthritis and employment, and earnings and work hours conditional on employment, were assessed using multilevel regression modelling. Heterogeneity in these relationships were assessed by age, gender, degree-level educational status, NS-SEC job classification and employer type.

On average, arthritis was associated with a 3 percentage point reduction in the probability of employment. The effect size varied over people's life course and was larger amongst females, people without a degree, and those in routine or intermediate occupations (when compared to those in professional occupations) or working for small private companies (when compared to large private companies and non-private employers). Our models predict, for instance, that arthritis is associated with an 11 percentage point reduction in the probability of employment among 50-year-old women without a degree. This contrasts with a 5 percentage point reduction among 50-year-old men without a degree. If employed, men with a degree earned less if they had arthritis, whereas others (including women with a degree and men without a degree) had similar earnings regardless of their arthritis status. Those in professional occupations with arthritis also earnt less, especially if they were women aged over 40, with indications that this was driven by reduced work hours.

Policy interventions to support people with arthritis who wish to remain in work might be designed with people in routine work in mind, and targeted at those working in smaller private firms. More research on the cost-effectiveness of those interventions is needed.

Published in

Social Science and Medicine


Volume: 321:115606






Open Access

Under a Creative Commons license

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