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BMJ Open. 2012; 2(5): e000958.
Published online 2012 September 10. doi:  10.1136/bmjopen-2012-000958
PMCID: PMC3467618

The possible absence of a healthy-worker effect: a cross-sectional survey among educated Japanese women



Despite being highly educated in comparison with women in other member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Japanese women are expected to assume traditional gender roles, and many dedicate themselves to full-time housewifery. Women working outside the home do so under poor conditions, and their health may not be better than that of housewives. This study compared the self-rated health status and health behaviours of housewives and working women in Japan.


Cross-sectional survey.


A national university in Tokyo with 9864 alumnae.


A total 1344 women who graduated since 1985 and completed questionnaires in an anonymous mail-based survey.

Primary and secondary outcome measures

Health anxiety and satisfaction, receipt of health check-ups, eating breakfast, smoking, and sleep problems according to job status and family demands: housewives (n=247) and working women with (n=624) and without (n=436) family demands. ORs were used for risk assessment, with housewives as a reference.


After adjustment for satisfaction with present employment status and other confounding factors, working women were more likely than housewives to feel health anxiety (with family demands, OR: 1.68, 95% CI1.10 to 2.57; without family demands, OR: 3.57, 95% CI 2.19 to 4.50) and health dissatisfaction (without family demands, OR: 3.50, 95% CI 2.35 to 5.21); they were also more likely than housewives to eat an insufficient breakfast (with family demands, OR: 1.91, 95% CI 1.22 to 3.00; without family demands, OR: 4.02, 95% CI 2.47 to 6.57) and to have sleep problems (ORs: 2.08 to 4.03).


No healthy-worker effect was found among Japanese women. Housewives, at least those who are well educated, appear to have better health status and health-related behaviours than do working women with the same level of education.

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