Employment trajectories and mental health-related disability in Belgium

Rebeka Balogh, Sylvie Gadeyne, Johanna Jonsson, Sudipa Sarkar, Karen Van Aerden, Chris Warhurst, Christophe Vanroelen

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Objectives: An individual’s quality of employment over time has been highlighted as a potential determinant of mental health. With mental ill-health greatly contributing to work incapacities and disabilities in Belgium, the present study aims to explore whether mental health, as indicated by registered mental health-related disability, is structured along the lines of employment quality, whereby employment quality is assessed over time as part of individuals’ labour market trajectories. Methods: Using administrative data from the Belgian Crossroads Bank for Social Security over 16 quarters between 2006 and 2009, transitions between waged jobs of varying quality (based on dimensions of income, working time, employment stability and multiple jobholding), self-employment, and unemployment are considered among individuals in the labour force aged 30–40 at baseline (n = 41,065 women and 45,667 men). With Multichannel Sequence Analysis and clustering, we constructed ideal types of employment trajectories. Fitting Cox regressions, we then evaluated individuals’ hazard of experiencing a disability from a mental disorder between 2010 and 2016. Results: Our analysis highlights various gender-specific trajectories. Among both genders, individuals exposed to near-constant unemployment over the initial 4 years showed the highest hazard of subsequent mental health-related disability compared to a group characterised by stable full-time employment, single jobholding, and above-median income. Trajectories involving a higher probability of subsidised and non-standard employment and (potential) spells of unemployment and lower relative income were also strong predictors of cause-specific disabilities. Health selection and confounding might, however, be contributing factors. Conclusions: Our study shows a gradient of mental disorders resulting in a disability along trajectory types. Our findings highlight the predictive power of labour market trajectories and their employment quality for subsequent mental disorder-related disability. Future research should examine the mechanisms, including selection effects in this association.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-302
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health
Issue number2
Early online date10 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
RB is recipient of a EUTOPIA co-tutelle doctoral scholarship (Grant No. OZRIFTM2). This research was also supported by the Research Foundation of Flanders (Grant No. G036816N). The funders had no involvement in the study design, data analysis, or the writing of the article.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).

Copyright 2023 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Belgium
  • Disability
  • Employment quality
  • Employment trajectory
  • Mental health
  • Precarious employment


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