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Economic inactivity and health

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 09 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2858
  1. Mel Bartley, professor
  1. 1Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK
  1. m.bartley{at}

Men of all ages in lower socioeconomic groups increasingly remain out of work if their health is suboptimal

During some four decades of rising life expectancy, the proportion of men who are economically inactive owing to long term ill health in the UK workforce has risen sharply, from under 5% to over 15% at the beginning of the 21st century.1 What this means is that the working population in 2008 faced the latest recession from a very different starting point from that faced in 1980, when the male economic inactivity rate was around 6%. The linked paper by Minton and colleagues (doi:10.1136/bmj.e2316) explores whether trends in economic activity differ in different occupational groups (socioeconomic classes) and whether rising and falling levels of economic activity affected those in good health differently from those in poorer health.2

Economic inactivity is the status of not looking for a job at all and is different from unemployment. People are unemployed if they have no job but are actively seeking work, and this is usually on record. The two should not be confused. There are several reasons for economic inactivity. For men, the most common reason is long term sickness. For women, traditionally it has been caring for the home and family. …

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