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Male managers in Japan have higher mortality rate, study finds

Commuters walk in front of JR Tokyo Station in May 2019. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Men in managerial positions or professional occupations in Japan have a higher mortality rate than their counterparts in Europe, according to a scientific study published in late May.

    The study was conducted on men aged between 35 to 64 from 1990 to 2015 in Japan, South Korea and eight European countries including Denmark and Switzerland by a team of researchers from the University of Tokyo and European institutes.

    Findings reported in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health said the mortality rate of "upper non-manual workers" increased in Japan in the second half of the 1990s following the collapse of the asset-inflated bubble economy, possibly due to the change in their social and work environment.

    The economic crisis saw managers and the professional class lose decision-making discretion, suffering greater psychological stress and an increasing workload, while overtime hours for most other occupations decreased, the study said.

    Cancer made the largest contribution to rising mortality in this occupational category, with suicide also factoring heavily, and the article referred to previous studies that suggested heavy job demands and long working hours made it difficult for such workers to make time for health checkups.

    In 2015, 375 per 100,000 persons in the managerial and professional classes died, almost 1.4 times the figures for lower non-manual workers such as clerical and service employees.

    While the mortality rate among managers and professionals has been declining since the 2000s, this could be set to reverse as a recent labor reform law in Japan exempts a category of skilled professionals with high wages such as consultants and financial traders from legally capped working hours.

    Yasuki Kobayashi, professor of public health at the University of Tokyo, noted that managers who are supposed to be able to regulate their schedule tend to drive themselves to work long hours.

    "It is necessary to continue labor reform and be equipped with statistical analyses to understand the situation of those with bad health," he said.

    In South Korea, the mortality rate among managers and professionals rose in the late 2000s following the 2008 global financial crisis triggered by the collapse of the U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. As in Japan, cancer made the largest contribution.

    In Europe, the trend was reversed, with manual workers consistently having higher mortality rates than upper non-manual workers.

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