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01.12.2015 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2015 Open Access

BMC Public Health 1/2015

Informal employment and health status in Central America

BMC Public Health > Ausgabe 1/2015
María López-Ruiz, Lucía Artazcoz, José Miguel Martínez, Marianela Rojas, Fernando G. Benavides
Wichtige Hinweise

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

All of the authors participated in the study design, some of us in the data analysis (ML, JMM) and others in the drafting of the manuscript (ML, LA, FGB, MR). Moreover, all authors reviewed the drafts of the manuscript, are in agreement with the text and findings, and we have all approved this final version.



Informal employment is assumed to be an important but seldom studied social determinant of health, affecting a large number of workers around the world. Although informal employment arrangements constitute a permanent, structural pillar of many labor markets in low- and middle-income countries, studies about its relationship with health status are still scarce. In Central America more than 60 % of non-agricultural workers have informal employment. Therefore, we aimed to assess differences in self-perceived and mental health status of Central Americans with different patterns of informal and formal employment.


Employment profiles were created by combining employment relations (employees, self-employed, employers), social security coverage (yes/no) and type of contract -only for employees- (written, oral, none), in a cross-sectional study of 8,823 non-agricultural workers based on the I Central American Survey of Working Conditions and Health of 2011. Using logistic regression models, adjusted odds ratios (aOR) by country, age and occupation, of poor self-perceived and mental health were calculated by sex. Different models were first fitted separately for the three dimensions of employment conditions, then for employment profiles as independent variables.


Poor self-perceived health was reported by 34 % of women and 27 % of men, and 30 % of women and 26 % of men reported poor mental health. Lack of social security coverage was associated with poor self-perceived health (women, aOR: 1.38, 95 % CI: 1.13-1.67; men, aOR: 1.36, 95 % CI: 1.13-1.63). Almost all employment profiles with no social security coverage were significantly associated with poor self-perceived and poor mental health in both sexes.


Our results show that informal employment is a significant factor in social health inequalities among Central American workers, which could be diminished by policies aimed at increasing social security coverage.
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