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Health, Science

Is being Self-Employed good for your Health?

1of365Working for yourself will make you happier, more satisfied and more productive.

These are the surprising conclusions of over two decades of life-satisfaction research – Which is rather odd; considering that being your own boss means no health insurance, no pension and no end of the month office party (!!)

With increasing pressure on salaried jobs and ever-diminishing public-sector pensions, many more of us could be looking at self-employment. But can longer hours, increased responsibility and more stress really be for everyone? Surely, having to do the company accounts when your friends are watching the Grand Prix is going to take a psychological and physiological toll…?

Taking a speedy look through the most current research, today’s post might help you find out whether driving solo is really good for you and your health…

Employee vs Boss – Which is better?

My wife and I often disagree. We have different views on politics, movies, food and fashion. I was schooled into thinking that working for a company, with regular hours and guaranteed pay was the most prudent career choice. My wife believes being your own boss comes up trumps.

Spiderman at work (in Liège Guillemins)

Dream of being your own boss?

Thankfully, four years of marriage has had a pleasant moderating influence on our opposing views. Momentarily sidestepping personal opinion and reviewing actual data, a wealth of questionnaire-based research across Europe and USA have concluded:

  • A significant proportion of the employed would prefer to work for themselves
  • Job satisfaction is significantly and consistently higher amongst the self-employed
  • Being self-employed is more stressful but;
  • Self-Employed workers prefer the independence and lack of hierarchy their work brings
  • Being ‘pushed’ into self-employment is likely to cancel these benefits
  • Overall life satisfaction is essentially the same between the employed and the self-employed

Do Self-Employed Workers Lie?

One major problem with these research findings is that all such findings are self-reported and based on questionnaires. Psychologists have recently uncovered the personality traits that tends to make for an entrepreneurial person. It’s no great surprise that these tycoon-types tend to have rather optimistic world view. Such traits also mean that they are unlikely to answer surveys with complete honestly.

In a valiant attempt to deduce whether self-employed folk are the masters of self-deceit, Benjamin Volland from the Max Planck Institute of Economics scrutinised questionnaire data from the British Household Panel Survey and then compared the results with the actual rates of ill-health.

Is it Healthier to be Self-Employed?


Being an optimist and self-employed seem to go hand-in-hand

He discovered that the self-employed do over-egg their well-being!

The self-employed consistently report better health, but actual results showed there were no differences in the physical and mental health of employed and self-employed people.

So there you have it: Self-employed entrepreneurs are no healthier, they just can’t help exaggerating.

Either that, or salaried workers are just too darned pessimistic and need to buck their ideas up…

Thanks for reading! Thoughts and opinions are welcome…


P.S. The latest issue of ‘Guru’ is now out – a free, bi-monthly, crowd-sourced magazine and a humble attempt make science interesting and engaging. Check it out – I’d love to know what you think (but please don’t be too brutal)!


Selected References (it’s a big field but there’s plenty here for the interested reader to dig their teeth into):

Volland, B (2011) Health and Health Assessment Among the Self-Employed (Awaiting publication)

Carree, M., & Verheul, I. (2011). What Makes Entrepreneurs Happy? Determinants of Satisfaction Among Founders Journal of Happiness Studies DOI: 10.1007/s10902-011-9269-3

ANDERSSON, P. (2008). Happiness and health: Well-being among the self-employed Journal of Socio-Economics, 37 (1), 213-236 DOI: 10.1016/j.socec.2007.03.003

About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...


3 thoughts on “Is being Self-Employed good for your Health?

  1. Hi Stu,

    Many self employed workers are trying to run a business themsleves. There are some people who just seek oout contracts because of their expertise but I reckon many folks think that starting up their own business is the real way forward. However recent statisitcs indicate that new businesses fail at an alarming rate. The following extract from an article in Business Zone from 02/12/2010 shows what I mean:

    One in eight businesses closed in the UK, last year. A total of 1,100 businesses failed each trading day, with a total of 279,000.
    And, for the first time since records started 10 years ago, more businesses are closing now than are starting. According to the Office Of National Statistics, only 236,000 businesses started last year.
    But worrying, less than half the businesses started in 2004 were still going at the end of the recession in 2009.
    That is a sad statistic.

    There are still many advantages in working as an employed person. However, many companies don’t appreciate their workers and treat them badly. Recognition and encouragemnt lead to a happy staff with a small job turnover. and I feel many modern companies need to learn this. A good modern example of contented staff, anecdotally, seem to work for firms like “Virgin” where Richard Branson is still very much hands on and tries to get to know his staff on a first name term basis.
    I worked for 2 compaines that treated the staff properly and I am sure there are many companies around who fall into this catagory.
    So, in conclusion, there are advantages for both types of employment but self-employment needs great considersation because you may well jump out of the frying pan and into the fire!!



    Posted by Robert Farrimond | August 20, 2011, 1:02 pm
  2. Hi Pops!
    Some scary stats – thought provoking stuff.
    I wonder whether there is a difference in attitudes to businesses that ‘fail’ between countries? During a trip to California, I met several people who proudly told me that for work they “ran start-ups”. On further questioning, it became apparent that of the dozen or so companies they had help set up, none had been profitable. They didn’t seem bothered about this (quite the opposite).
    In the UK, (are other countries the same?) there is a stigma – both in society and from banks – for running a business that doesn’t succeed. In the USA, it seemed that there was an attitude of ‘if I fail, it doesn’t matter – I’ll keep trying till I hit on something big’…
    Thanks for commenting 🙂

    Posted by Stuart Farrimond | August 21, 2011, 9:28 am
  3. Interesting findings. I guess both are exposed to stress, just different kinds of stress. While you can create a more beautiful and pleasant work environment and schedule when you are self employed you still do not have the perceived safety as those work in regular jobs have. Work also “doesn’t end” for many self employed people so they might carry their worries and stress with them 24/7.

    Posted by Jay Uhdinger | September 11, 2011, 11:57 pm

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