BACKGROUND: Investigating whether certain individual or background characteristics are associated with an increased risk of experiencing an excessively demanding work environment in younger workers may help to reduce future inequality in health and maximize their labour market participation.
AIMS: To describe the work environment of Danish 20- to 21-year olds and to investigate the influence of family socioeconomic background and individual characteristics at age 14-15 on later experience of physical and psychosocial work environments.
METHODS: We obtained information on subjects' school performance, vulnerability, health and parental socioeconomic status from registers and a questionnaire completed in 2004. A questionnaire concerning eight measures of subjects' psychosocial and physical work environment in 2010 was used to determine the outcomes of interest.
RESULTS: The study population consisted of 679 younger workers aged 20-21. The psychosocial work environment was in general good but younger workers experienced more demanding physical work than the general working population. Overall, individual as well as family factors had a limited impact on their assessment of the work environment. Low self-esteem at age 14-15 was associated with experiencing high demands and lack of trust and fairness at work, whereas low parental socioeconomic status was associated with a demanding physical work environment.
CONCLUSIONS: This study showed a social gradient in experiencing a demanding physical work environment at age 20-21. The psychosocial work environment experienced by younger workers was generally good, but vulnerable young people may need special attention to protect them from or prepare them for psychosocially demanding jobs later in life.