Clinical research company Antibodies.com, based in Cambridge in the UK, found that consistently working more than 48 hours each week may shorten a person’s lifespan by as much as nine years.
Furthermore, it found that for every hour worked over 48 hours in a week, on a consistent basis, could take as much as 2.25 years of a person’s life expectancy.
Antibodies.com said that countries with a high life expectancy – those with an average of 82.2 years to 84.2 years – had an average working week of 40.7 hours, in figures it attributed to the World Health Organisation.
On the flip side, countries with the lowest average lifespans – 52.9 years to 59.8 years – had average working weeks of 42.6 hours.
Switzerland was the only country to buck the trend, it said, where residents typically work more than 45 hours per week but still achieve an average lifespan of 82 years.
In Australia, the full-time working week is considered to be 38 hours, as stipulated by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
However, NRMA Insurance polled 1,500 SME owners in 2017 and found that a high proportion are working more hours than this while also taking less than the standard four weeks of holidays.
It found that age was also a factor, with younger business owners tending to work more hours each week and take less holiday time away from their business.
Working hours not the only factor
Of course, lifespan is influenced by more than just hours spent at work, with the quality and access to medical intervention an obvious differentiator.
However, Antibodies.com said that its findings are similar to those of the 36 countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which includes Australia and primarily other Western countries.
The company said that across the OECD, the average working week is just 33 hours, but with an average life expectancy of 80.6 years. It said that countries with the lowest life expectancies exceeded the global average working week by up to nine hours.
“Although there are so many things that affect life expectancy in different countries, this research shows how distinct the connection between things like early vaccinations for children, working hours, access to sanitation and air quality can be,” said managing director and founding partner Dr Stewart Newlove.
“However, this makes some anomalies all the more noticeable. Lesotho, for example, has one of the highest child vaccination rates at 93 per cent, but the shortest life expectancy, due to such high instances of AIDS and tuberculosis, and long working hours.
“Australia, on the other hand, has the highest prevalence of drug disorders, rate of meat consumption and second most common instances of obesity on the list, but has the world’s fourth-longest life expectancy.”
Australia ranks highly for life expectancy
As Dr Newlove noted, the research put Australia in equal fourth on the list of countries with the highest average lifespan, at 82.9 years – the same as France and Singapore.
Topping the list was Japan, with an average lifespan of 84.2 years. Switzerland was next, at 83.3 years, followed by Spain at 83.1 years.
Australia just pipped Canada and Italy, both on 82.8 years.
South Korea and Norway rounded out the top 10, with average life expectancies of 82.7 years and 82.5 years respectively.
Across the Tasman, New Zealand recorded an average lifespan of 82.2 years.
Where are average life expectancies shortest?
The country with the lowest average lifespan is the tiny African country of Lesotho, which is landlocked by South Africa, where residents typically live just 52.9 years.
Sadly, the figures were similar across a number of countries on the African continent, which is home to all of the 10 countries with the lowest average lifespan:
- Central African Republic – 53 years
- Sierra Leone – 53.1 years
- Chad – 54.3 years
- Ivory Coast – 54.6 years
- Nigeria – 55.2 years
- Somalia – 55.4 years
- Eswatini – 57.7 years
- Mali – 58 years
- South Sudan – 58.6 years