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Open Access Open Badges Research

Depressive symptoms and psychosocial stress at work among older employees in three continents

Johannes Siegrist1*, Thorsten Lunau1, Morten Wahrendorf2 and Nico Dragano1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medical Sociology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Duesseldorf, P.O. Box 101007, 40225 Duesseldorf, Germany

2 International Centre for Life Course Studies in Society and Health, Department of Primary Care and Public Health, Imperial College London, London, UK

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Globalization and Health 2012, 8:27  doi:10.1186/1744-8603-8-27

Published: 20 July 2012



To assess whether an association of psychosocial stress at work with depressive symptoms among older employees is evident in a set of comparable empirical studies from Europe, North America and Asia.


Cross-sectional and longitudinal multivariate regression analyses of data from 4 cohort studies with elder workers (2004 and 2006) testing associations of psychosocial stress at work (‘effort-reward imbalance’; ‘low control’) with depressive symptoms.


Cross-sectional analyses from 17 countries with 14.236 participants reveal elevated odds ratios of depressive symptoms among people experiencing high work stress compared to those with low or no work stress. Adjusted odds ratios vary from 1.64 (95% CI 1.02-2.63) in Japan to 1.97 (95% CI 1.75-2.23) in Europe and 2.28 (95% CI 1.59-3.28) in the USA. Odds ratios from additional longitudinal analyses (in 13 countries) controlling for baseline depression are smaller, but remain in part significant.


Findings indicate that psychosocial stress at work might be a relevant risk factor for depressive symptoms among older employees across countries and continents. This observation may call for global policy efforts to improve quality of work in view of a rapidly aging workforce, in particular in times of economic globalization.

Work stress; Depressive symptoms; Older employees; Globalization; Effort-reward imbalance; Job control; Surveys