Epidemiologists have long recognized work as a fundamental determinant of health and wellbeing. Our current understanding of the relationship between work and health, however, is based largely on the experiences of male workers and is therefore decidedly limited. While it is well documented that women?s experiences in the work-environment differ meaningfully from their male counterparts, blue-collar female workers deserve special consideration. Beyond overt physical hazards, there is growing recognition that the social environment in blue-collar workplaces may uniquely predispose female blue-collar workers to work- related stress and subsequent depression. Female blue-collar workers may contend with sexual harassment, discrimination, and social isolation; and scheduling demands that conflict with domestic responsibilities. All of these work-related stressors may contribute to greater risk for depression female blue-collar workers. The existing literature on female blue-collar workers, however, is limited in scope and largely theoretical. With an important gap to fill, I propose here a novel investigation of the association between the blue-collar work environment and mental health among female workers. The proposed analyses employ data from the Alcoa Study, a longstanding academic-corporate partnership formally initiated in 1997, which aims to improve health and safety outcomes of employees through rigorous academic research. Since its inception, the Alcoa Study has made available detailed data on sociodemographic characteristics as well as longitudinal data on work experiences, and health outcomes of over 200,000 men and women employed at the company since 1985. The present study will be the first that focused specifically on the experiences of female employees. We propose an investigation of the association between job-grade (blue- versus white-collar work) and depression, as well as aspects of the social environment and work-life conflict, among female blue-collar workers. We will first compare depression risk among full-time hourly (blue-collar) and salaried (white-collar, largely administrative) female employees. We will subsequently explore whether specific aspects of the work environment such as proportion of female coworkers and manager gender are associated with depression risk among female blue-collar workers. Finally, we will evaluate whether scheduling demand and number of financial dependents interact synergistically to increase depression risk among female blue-collar workers.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed project aims to determine whether female blue-collar workers are at higher risk for depression as compared to their white-collar counterparts, and whether specific elements of the work environment (such as gender composition of coworkers and scheduling demands) are associated with increased depression risk among female blue-collar workers. The potential impact of the proposed research is two-fold: first, this research addresses a measurable gap on the mental health of female blue-collar workers in the occupational health literature. (?) Second, the project sponsor has a longstanding professional relationship with company leadership, and therefore preliminary insight regarding how female blue-collar workers interact with their colleagues and their work environment may not only reveal promising future directions for research in social and occupational epidemiology, but may shape future workplace-based interventions aimed at improving the mental health of female workers at Alcoa. (?)

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Chavez, Mark
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University of California Berkeley
Public Health & Prev Medicine
Schools of Public Health
United States
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Elser, Holly; Falconi, April M; Bass, Michelle et al. (2018) Blue-collar work and women's health: A systematic review of the evidence from 1990 to 2015. SSM Popul Health 6:195-244