Lower workforce participation is associated with more severe persisting breathlessness

Joseph Clark, Sungwon Chang, Irina Kinchin, Diana Ferreira, Slavica Kochovska, Deidre Morgan, Leanne M. Poulos, Miriam J. Johnson, Magnus Ekström, David C. Currow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Not being able to work has negative health, social and financial consequences. Persisting breathlessness is prevalent in working-aged people. Is it associated with lower workforce participation? This study, using the South Australian Health Omnibus, aimed to explore associations between paid workforce participation and persisting breathlessness intensity, and economic impacts on income in people of working age. Methods: This cross-sectional study conducted face-to-face interviews with a random sample of adults in South Australia (n = 8916). Questions included key demographic data, workforce participation and the presence and intensity of persisting breathlessness. Data from working-aged respondents (20–65 years of age) were standardised to the census for regression analyses. Work was coded to paid full- or part-time work or ‘other’. Persisting breathlessness (more than three of the last six months) used the modified Medical Research Council breathlessness scale (aggregated to 0, 1, 2–4). Opportunity cost valuations compared annual income foregone by persisting breathlessness severity. Results: Of people interviewed, 6,608 were working-aged (49.9% male; 67.5% had post-secondary qualifications; 70.9% were in paid full- or part-time work; and 1.7% had mMRC score 2–4). Workforce participation dropped in working aged people with increasing breathlessness: mMRC 0, 70.6%; mMRC 1, 51.7%; mMRC 2–4, 20.3%. In the regression model, people with the most severe breathlessness were much less likely to work (OR 0.14; 95% CI 0.09, 0.22). Annual income foregone by people with persisting breathlessness was AU$10.7 billion (AU$9.1b for full-time and AU$1.6b for part-time work; range AU$5.9b, AU$49.7b). Conclusion: Worsening persisting breathlessness is associated with lower workforce participation with direct financial consequences, greatest for older males.

Original languageEnglish
Article number93
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Pulmonary Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Cross-sectional population survey
  • Income foregone
  • Persisting breathlessness
  • Workforce participation


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