People who were employed in lower-status jobs suffer from effects of work-related hypertension even after retirement, according to a new study from UC Davis.
It is the first study to show that retirement-aged Americans who held higher-status jobs - such as chief executives, financial managers and management analysts - tend to have the lowest rates of hypertension, while those who had lower-status jobs tend to have the highest rates.
Hypertension is diagnosed when blood pressure on the artery walls is consistently too high.
The condition can eventually damage cells of the arteries' inner lining, leading to angina, heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, kidney failure and other serious health problems.
"People's occupations during their working years can clearly be a risk for hypertension after they retire. The body seems to have built up a stress reaction that takes years to ramp down and may last well beyond age 75," said senior study author Paul Leigh.
The study surveyed more than 22,000 non-institutionalised Americans over the age of 50 every two years, and includes detailed information on job history, health status, lifestyle and socio-economic factors.
The researchers used data collected between March 2004 and February 2005, and looked at 7,289 men and women over the age of 65, whose occupations during working years ran the gamut - from managers and white-collar professionals to clerical and blue-collar workers.
After controlling for variables such as education, race, income, smoking, alcohol consumption, body mass index and co-morbidities, the researchers analysed the data for statistical associations.
They found higher-status occupations to be associated with less hypertension than lower-status occupations.
"For a long time, the conventional wisdom was that the people at the top would be more likely to have hypertension, but just the opposite is true. Hypertension is more common among people on the lowest rungs of the occupational ladder," said Leigh.
Leigh explained that unlike executives and professionals like architects and engineers, workers in positions such as sales, administrative support, construction and food preparation have little control over decision-making.
These workers are under pressure to get a specified amount of work done in a certain amount of time, and may feel inadequate about their positions in the workplace hierarchy.
Thus, their stress levels tend to be higher, which can lead to high blood pressure and, eventually, hypertension.
The study has been published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.