Article Text

Job demand and control in mid-life and physical and mental functioning in early old age: do childhood factors explain these associations in a British birth cohort?
  1. Mikaela B von Bonsdorff1,
  2. Rachel Cooper2,
  3. Diana Kuh2
  1. 1Department of Health Sciences, Gerontology Research Center and University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
  2. 2MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at UCL, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mikaela von Bonsdorff, mikaela.vonbonsdorff{at}


Objectives Adverse work-related exposures have been linked with decreased physical and mental functioning in later life, however, whether childhood factors explain the associations between work exposures and functioning is unknown. Our aim was to investigate if job demand and control in mid-life were related to self-reported physical and mental functioning in early old age and whether childhood factors explained these associations.

Design Prospective cohort study.

Setting England, Scotland and Wales.

Participants and outcome measures Data come from the UK Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development, a cohort with follow-up since birth in 1946. 1485 occupationally active study members had data available on job demand and control in mid-life and on physical and mental functioning assessed using the Short Form-36 questionnaire at 60–64 years.

Results Those with higher job control in mid-life had better physical functioning than those who reported lower job control (β 0.51, 95% CI 0.02 to 1.01, p=0.04 adjusted for adult confounders). Those with higher job demand in mid-life had poorer mental functioning (β −0.82, 95% CI −1.14 to −0.51, p<0.001). Associations between job control and mental functioning were similar but less pronounced. Adjustment for childhood factors (father's and mother's educational attainment, parents’ interest in school at age 7 and cognitive ability at age 8) partially explained the association between job control and physical functioning, but did not explain the association between job demand and mental functioning.

Conclusions Job demand and control in mid-life are differentially associated with mental and physical functioning in early old age and some of these associations may be partially explained by childhood factors.


This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt and build upon this work, for commercial use, provided the original work is properly cited. See:

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Supplementary materials

  • Supplementary Data

    This web only file has been produced by the BMJ Publishing Group from an electronic file supplied by the author(s) and has not been edited for content.

    Files in this Data Supplement: