Career Woman

Research shows overworking is shortening your life


New research suggests working weeks that last longer than 48 hours could be shortening life expectancy by up to nine years. According to, in their new interactive guide, every extra hour spent at work above the recommended 48 hours takes a huge 2.25 years off your life.

The guide goes into further details of the lifestyle habits and life expectancies of the healthiest and unhealthiest nations around the world. It breaks down the consumption rates, habits, and other key statistics of the countries with the highest and lowest life expectancies, and the statistics show that countries with an average working week of over 48 hours have citizens who die an average of two years earlier compared with those who work 45 hours per week or less.

Data from World Health Organization (WHO) reports that countries with a high life expectancy of between 82 and 84 years work an average of 40.7 hours each week, whilst those working an average of 42.6 hours per week have a drastically reduced lifespan of between 52.9 and 59.8 years.

Although 48 hours is the recommended maximum duration for a working week, the new research shows that working over 40 hours per week could take up to two years off your life. And, if employees around the world were to work for exactly 48 hours per week, their life expectancy could be reduced by nearly ten years overall.

How the results stack up:

A good example of how working fewer hours extends your life is France. With the lowest working hours at just 35 per week, the French also enjoy a huge life expectancy of almost 83 years. On the other hand, the Central African Republic is one of the lowest life expectancy countries at 53 years, with workers clocking in for a whopping 52 hours per week here – four hours over the recommended amount.  Guinea, Mali, Lesotho, and Guinea-Bissau were also among low life expectancy countries with life expectancy under 60 years for all four. And, the one thing these have in common is that employees are working at least 45 hours per week.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the average time spent at work from OECD countries is 33 hours per week, whilst the average life expectancy comes in at 80.6 years. Countries with the lowest life expectancies exceed this global average working week by nine hours.

Further contributing factors:

Dr Stewart Newlove, Managing Director at, says:

‘Although there are many factors which affect life expectancy in different countries, the research shows how the distinct connection between factors such as early vaccinations for children, working hours, access to sanitation and air quality can be’.

He went on to say that, however, this can make some anomalies even more noticeable. Take Lesotho, for example – although it has one of the highest rates of child vaccination at 93%, it also has one of the shortest life expectancies, due to both long working hours and higher than average instances of diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS.

On the other hand, Australia may be a surprise, with a life expectancy of 82.9 years, although it has a high percentage of meat consumption, drug disorders and common causes of obesity, plus one of the lowest childhood vaccination rates. This surprisingly high life expectancy may, according to, be down to the low weekly working hours, minimal air pollution, and low smoking prevalence.

Japanese citizens enjoy an average life expectancy of 84.2 years, the highest in the world. Although it is known worldwide as one of the hardest-working countries, the average working week comes in at a respectable 40 hours. However, there are other factors which may be contributing to this long life expectancy. Japan has one of the healthiest diets in the world and the lowest mean BMI globally. On the other hand, each person in Japan consumes slightly higher than the global average of meat daily, and this country has one of the highest levels of cigarette consumption – smokers get through an average of 23.8 cigarettes per day.

Low working hours & low life expectancies:

Not all countries with working weeks shorter than 48 hours enjoyed high life expectancies, outlining the importance of other contributing factors in the study. Nigeria, for example, has a working week shorter than the global average, however, factors such as high alcohol consumption and high smoking prevalence may be the main contributing factors. Despite a lower than average working week and one of the lowest meat consumption levels globally, over 43% of Nigeria’s population consume an average of 13.4L of pure alcohol per year, and smokers get through an average of over 14 cigarettes per day.

Cameroon is yet another country with lower than average weekly working hours, but a low life expectancy at just 58.1 years. This may be largely due to the fact that when compared with other countries, Cameroon’s alcohol consumption prevalence is also high, with drinkers consuming an average of almost 9L of pure alcohol each year. Obesity is also high at 11.4% and whilst vaccination rates are higher compared with other similar lifespan locations, Cameroon has the highest air pollution levels of all destinations featured in the study.

Meat consumption may also play a part; according to the statistics, the countries with meat consumption exceeding more than 45kg of meat per person per year were 12% more likely to have obesity issues compared to locations with a lower average meat intake. The 14 countries reported to have the highest intake of meat per person per year also have a higher average BMI at 26.28, and more than 20% higher obesity rates. Australia comes in top with a whopping annual meat consumption of 111.5kg and an average BMI of 27.4.

By comparison, countries which consume an average of just 16.3kg of meat per person per year have a much lower average BMI at 22.9. And according to leading plant-based medic Dr. Neal Barnard, our appetite for meat and cheese is one of the largest issues contributing to weight problems.

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