VUB research shows even a short period of precarious employment can have lasting effects - November 2020

There is growing evidence that workers in temporary and precarious employment have worse mental and physical health than those in more stable and better-quality jobs. Research from VUB, just published, looked at mortality inequalities within the Belgian employee population. The researchers found that workers in specific non-permanent employment forms (such as temporary agency work) had an increased risk of mortality over the next 13 years compared to permanent workers. These mortality inequalities were particularly visible among men. The results suggest that special attention should be paid to monitoring and, eventually, improving the health and safety, employment conditions and prospects of workers in precarious and temporary jobs.
A research carried out under the guidance of Christophe Vanroelen and Sylvie Gadeyne of the VUB research group Interface Demography and is part of a doctoral project funded under the EUTOPIA collaboration between the VUB and the University of Warwick.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Temporary work has previously been associated with poor health and the risk of premature death. For her doctoral research, Rebeka Balogh investigated the relationship between labour status and mortality using data from the Belgian census. Balogh: “The results indicate that people, especially men working as temporary workers, seasonal workers, or on fixed-term contracts or in employment programmes, are worse off in terms of mortality. They have an approximately 50% higher mortality rate. The research is an important contribution to the growing evidence of the negative health implications of temporary and precarious work. It is becoming increasingly clear that unstable work statutes pose a health risk that should not be underestimated. This aspect needs to be taken into account more by policymakers.” The study was published in the authoritative scientific journal The Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health.
Belgian census

The database of the Belgian census contains, in principle, data on all Belgian nationals. These unique data are at the basis of the research and ensured that the conclusions of this study could make an important contribution to the scientific insights in the field of work and health. The researchers used the 2001 census and linked the data surveyed at that time to data on mortality for all subsequent years, up to and including 2014. The analysis focuses on the inhabitants of Belgium who were between 30 and 59 years old in 2001 and who identified themselves as employees. In total, the researchers were able to examine 1.4 million individuals.

Balogh: “The unique database made it possible to link the mortality of an unprecedentedly large group of people to their employment status. As a result, the results are extremely reliable. Moreover, the large numbers made it possible to compare different forms of temporary work. The rich data source also allowed us to statistically check the results of the study for numerous factors that may influence the relationship between employment status and mortality: level of education, migration background, household composition, working hours, homeownership, and so on. Our study is, therefore, the first to be able to make reliable statements on mortality differences between workers with very specific employment statuses, such as fixed-term contracts, seasonal workers, temporary workers, workers in employment programmes and occasional workers.


The results of the study clearly show that differences in mortality by employment status are generally more pronounced among men than among women. In particular, higher mortality rates are observed among male agency workers compared to men on permanent contracts – though there are also significant differences for seasonal workers, men on fixed-term contracts and in employment programmes. Among women, temporary agency workers have a 30% higher mortality rate than workers on permanent contracts.

Balogh: “One possible reason for this may be that, even at the beginning of the 21st century, women are still less strongly connected to the labour market than men, for example, because they invest more time in non-work roles such as bringing up children or the household. It is possible, therefore, that the employment status in which they work plays a weaker role.


External causes of death (e.g. traffic accidents and suicide) play an important role in the higher mortality of temporary workers (men and women) and seasonal workers (men). For men, several types of temporary work also result in higher mortality due to cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Female temporary employees have a higher relative risk of mortality due to cardiovascular causes than female employees on permanent contracts. However, the data did not allow statistical correction for differences in lifestyle (including smoking and unhealthy eating habits). The relationships established may be due in part to this.

Balogh: “Moreover, these results are only a snapshot of the employment situation from the 2001 census. It is unclear what career path the workers followed in the following years: some people will remain in temporary employment status for a long time, while others may quickly move on to a more permanent job or leave the labour market. Yet it is striking that even a snapshot of the employment status at one moment in time shows very strong relationships with mortality in the years thereafter. This finding, therefore, further supports the theory of ‘scarring effects’: even a short period of unemployment or precarious employment can have lasting effects on people’s prosperity and health.

Full reference: Balogh, R., Gadeyne, S., & Vanroelen, C. (2020). Non-standard employment and mortality in Belgian workers: A census-based investigation. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, online first. doi:10.5271/sjweh.3931. Link to the publication:


Rebeka Balogh – – English
Christophe Vanroelen – – 0497.40.48.28 – Dutch/English

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