Open Access Research article

Burnout, working conditions and gender - results from the northern Sweden MONICA Study

Sofia Norlund1, Christina Reuterwall14, Jonas Höög2, Bernt Lindahl1, Urban Janlert3 and Lisbeth Slunga Birgander1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Occupational Medicine, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

2 Department of Sociology, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

3 Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Epidemiology, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden

4 Research and Development Department, Jämtland County Council, Östersund, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:326  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-326

Published: 9 June 2010



Sick-leave because of mental and behavioural disorders has increased considerably in Sweden since the late nineties, and especially in women. The aim of this study was to assess the level of burnout in the general working population in northern Sweden and analyse it's relation to working conditions and gender.


In this cross-sectional study the survey from the MONICA-study (Monitoring of Trends and Determinants in Cardiovascular Disease) in northern Sweden 2004 was used. A burnout instrument, the Shirom Melamed Burnout Questionnaire (SMBQ), was incorporated in the original survey which was sent to a random sample of 2500 individuals with a response rate of 76%. After including only actively working people, aged 25-64 years, our study population consisted of 1000 participants (497 women and 503 men). ANOVA and multiple linear regression models were used.


The prevalence of a high level of burnout (SMBQ >4.0) was 13%. Women had a higher level of burnout than men with the most pronounced difference in the age group 35-44 years. In both sexes the level of burnout decreased with age. Demand and control at work, and job insecurity were related to burnout. In women the level of education, socioeconomic position, work object, and working varying hours were of importance. Interaction effects were found between sex and work object, and sex and working hours. In a multiple regression analysis almost half of the gender difference could be explained by work related and life situational factors.


Working life conditions contributed to the level of burnout in this actively working sample from the general population in northern Sweden. Especially in women, socioeconomic position was associated with burnout. The high level of burnout in women compared to men was partly explained by more unfavourable working conditions and life situational factors. Efforts to level out gender differences in burnout should probably focus on improving both working and socioeconomic conditions for women.