By Eric Ferreri, News & Communications

Union members say they're healthier than non-union employees.

A new Duke study suggests that labor unions are good for your health.

The research finds that more unionized American workers consider themselves healthy than do their non-union counterparts, an indication that membership is good for the body as well as the paycheck, said David Brady, a Duke sociology professor and co-author of the study.

“Unions are taking a beating in American culture,” Brady said. “But here we can say that not only are unions better for your wages, they’re good for your health.”

The study, which appears in the latest issue of Social Forces, examines survey results of more than 11,000 full-time workers, both union and non-union, who answered questions about their general health. The data is from the General Social Survey, a massive effort of the National Opinion Research Center providing more than three decades of data.

One finding: 85 percent of union workers reported being in good health, compared to 82 percent of non-union workers.

In real numbers, that 3 percent gap represents 3.7 million American workers.

“Three percent may not seem like a lot,” said Megan Reynolds, a Duke doctoral student and lead author of the study. “But when you start looking at the number of workers in the United States, that’s a lot of people.”

Brady and Reynolds say the difference is comparable to the physical benefits found to be associated with being married rather than divorced or being five years younger.

Union workers comprise just about 11 percent of the American workforce.

Brady and Reynolds culled the data to compare workers with largely similar characteristics aside from their union membership. They believe this is the first study to do so and illustrates that union membership is another factor – like age, education level and marital status – that affects a person’s health.

CITATION: “Union Membership and Self-Rated Health in the United States.” Megan Reynolds and David Brady. Social Forces. March 2012. DOI: 10.1093/sf/sor023