Prevalence and causes of work disability among working-age U.S. adults, 2011–2013, NHIS

Kristina A. Theis, Ph.D., Douglas W. Roblin, Ph.D., Charles G. Helmick, M.D.,Ruiyan Luo, Ph.D.

Disability and Health Journal, Volume 11, Issue 1, January 2018, Pages 108-115


Chronic conditions are among the major causes of work disability (WD), which is associated with lower employment, less economic activity, and greater dependence on social programs, while limiting access to the benefits of employment participation.


We estimated the overall prevalence of WD among working-age (18–64 years) U.S. adults and the most common causes of WD overall and by sex. Next, we estimated the prevalence and most common causes of WD among adults with 12 common chronic conditions by sex and age. We hypothesized that musculoskeletal conditions would be among the most common causes of WD overall and for individuals with other diagnosed chronic conditions.


Data were obtained from years 2011, 2012, and 2013 of the National Health Interview Survey. WD was defined by a “yes” response to one or both of: “Does a physical, mental, or emotional problem NOW keep you from working at a job or business?” and “Are you limited in the kind OR amount of work you can do because of a physical, mental or emotional problem?”


Overall, 20.1 million adults (10.4% (95% CI = 10.1–10.8) of the working-age population) reported WD. The top three most commonly reported causes of WD were back/neck problems 30.3% (95% CI = 29.1–31.5), depression/anxiety/emotional problems 21.0% (19.9–22.0), and arthritis/rheumatism 18.6 (17.6–19.6). Musculoskeletal conditions were among the three most common causes of WD overall and by age- and sex-specific respondents across diagnosed chronic conditions.


Quantifying the prevalence and causes of work disability by age and sex can help prioritize interventions.