Women who experience early menopause spend 4 months fewer in work during their early 50s

24 January 2022

The onset of menopause before age 45 reduces months spent in work by 9% – around 4 months’ employment – for women during their early 50s, finds new research by the UCL Social Research Institute.

The study, published in Social Science and Medicine, also shows that women who report menopausal symptoms at age 50 go on to spend significantly less time working in their early 50s than those who don’t experience symptoms.

The researchers analysed data on more than 3,400 women born in England, Scotland and Wales in 1958 who are taking part in the National Child Development Study. They examined information on menstrual periods reported by female participants at ages 44/45, 50 and 55. The study’s authors then compared data on the employment histories of women who went onto experience menopause before age 45 and menopausal symptoms at age 50 versus those who did not.

The research found that each additional menopausal symptom reduced women’s employment rates by half a percent. Those who experienced the average number of eight symptoms at age 50 spent 4% fewer months in work, which translates into around 2 months’ lost employment during their early 50s.

However, not all symptoms were found to have the same effects. Every additional psychological problem associated with menopause – such as anxiety, depression, tearfulness and irritability – reduced employment rates by 1-2%, rising to 2-4% when those symptoms were reported to “bother me a lot”. Physical health symptoms – including hot flushes and night sweats – were only associated with lower employment rates when they were reported as bothersome.

Co-author, Professor Alice Sullivan (UCL Social Research Institute) said: “Menopause results in millions of days lost through absenteeism, and some women may choose to leave employment rather than ask their employers for support.

“Our findings on the negative effects of early menopause and menopausal symptoms on women’s employment are cause for some concern, not only because the size of the effects is large, but also because so many women suffer these problems.

“The government has pledged to reduce gender health inequality in England through the upcoming women’s health strategy and the ongoing inquiry on menopause and the workplace. To improve women’s working lives, the government must urge employers to put in place policies that allow women to feel more comfortable talking about menopause, and enable them to have greater opportunities to manage working patterns and working hours.”

Caroline Nokes MP (chair of the Women and Equalities Committee) said: “This research backs up previous surveys and studies which have made it very clear there is a significant financial cost to women from menopause symptoms.

“The work the Select Committee is doing at the moment has identified the impact on both career progression and even the ability of women to stay in the workplace. That means there are promotion opportunities lost, pension contributions lost and, in too many cases, direct income lost as women feel unable to continue in work.”

This is the first study to examine the effects of menopause on employment using nationally representative, longitudinal data. The authors were able to use detailed data to account for a range of factors that may have influenced the link between early menopause, menopausal symptoms and employment. The researchers are grateful for the ongoing participation of thousands of study members who are now in their 60s.

Media coverage of this research

Mail on Sunday – Women miss out on thousands of pounds as their career peak is hit by taking time off to get through the menopause

Further information

The consequences of early menopause and menopause symptoms for labour market participation,’ by Alex Bryson, Gabriella Conti, Rebecca Hardy, Darina Peycheva and Alice Sullivan was published in Social Science and Medicine in January 2022.

Notes to editors

  1. This paper is thought to be one of the first to estimate the effects of early menopause and menopausal symptoms on employment and full-time employment rates among women. The study exploits prospective birth cohort data for all women born in a particular week in 1958 to estimate the causal effects of menopause on employment rates using a difference-in-difference strategy.  This technique compares the gap in employment rates during their 20s and early 30s with the employment gap in their 50s for women who went onto experience early menopause versus those who did not.  The research makes similar comparisons between women according to the intensity with which they experienced menopausal symptoms when aged 50.  In doing so the study controls for a rich array of variables collected at birth, in childhood, and in early adulthood which can affect employment prospects and experiences of menopause.
  2. Natural menopause was defined as at least 12 consecutive months of amenorrhea not induced by surgery or other medical treatment. If this occurred before age 45 the study classified women as having gone through early menopause. Five percent of the sample were classified as having been through early menopause. At age 50 women were asked whether they had experienced symptoms associated with menopause in the previous 12 months and, if so, how much each symptom bothered them.  Of 22 symptoms women reported an average of 7.5, and 1.6 ‘bothersome’ symptoms.
  3. The research derives cohort members’ main employment activity each year for the 35 years from age 20 to age 55.
  4. The estimation sample is 3,405 women who had not received hormone replacement therapy or undergone surgery to remove the womb or ovaries, and excludes those with missing data, including those with substantial missing work history data.
  5. The 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS) is following the lives of an initial 17,415 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week of 1958.

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