In Brief

Working women constitute nearly half the U.S. work force, but they face higher risk from job-related stress, musculoskeletal injuries, violence and other workplace hazards than their male co-workers, according to a report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Violence is of particular concern, reports NIOSH, because homicide is the leading cause of job-related death for women. In 1998, 163 women were murdered at work, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

NIOSH's findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Women's Association (Vol. 55, No. 22), along with an article on working women and stress by psychologist and NIOSH researcher Naomi G. Swanson, PhD.

Swanson's article finds that:

  • Women face gender-specific work stress, such as sex discrimination and the need to balance work and family demands, in addition to general job stressors such as work overload, lack of control over their job or underutilization of their skills.

  • Barriers to financial and career advancement based on sex discrimination have been linked to more frequent psychological and physical symptoms such as depression and increased blood pressure.

  • Women who experience sexual harassment report a range of psychological symptoms including depression, anxiety, fearfulness and feelings of guilt and shame as well as physical symptoms such as headaches and sleep disorders.

"Several studies have shown that sexual harassment is a particularly noxious stressor for women and has a significant impact on psychological distress and absenteeism beyond that attributable to regular job stressors," says Swanson.