People with personality disorders are seven times as likely to be on disability pensions as others. By comparison, anxiety and depression diagnoses raise the risk of a need for disability benefits just half as much. (Illustrative photo: Colourbox)

Insecure people find it hard to hold jobs

Insecure and frightened people often end up on the dole – living on disability pensions. Dishonest and manipulative people retain their jobs, according to a new Norwegian study.

We all have our individual personalities and characteristics.

When a personality trait is sufficiently deviant as to create problems for the individual or his/her environment, psychologists and doctors say they have a personality disorder. Personality disorders can lead to enormous social, psychological and economic problems.

A study of young adult Norwegians shows that people who have a personality disorder that makes them insecure and introverted, or emotionally unstable, are far more likely than others to be given disability pensions by the country’s welfare system.

On the other hand, persons with dishonest and manipulative personality traits are only half as prone to be on the dole as the average Norwegian.

In a study of nearly 3,000 Norwegians, researchers discovered that people who are manipulative and dishonest run just half the risk of having to live on a disablement pension as the general population. (Illustrative photo: Colourbox)

The study is based on diagnostic interviews with 2,770 Norwegians aged 19 to 36. These interviews were carried out from 1999 to 2004. These data were linked to the Norwegian National Insurance

Administration’s recordings of disability benefits for a 10-year period.

Surprisingly strong link

“Very few people in Norway are given disability pensions on the grounds of having a personality disorder,” says Dr Kristian Østby.

“However, there is a surprisingly strong association between personality traits and disability pensions.”

Kristian Østby is one of the researchers behind the study, carried out by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo.

Ten different personality disorders

Norway’s health officials have grouped personality disorders in ten categories: Paranoid, schizoid, dissocial (antisocial or psychopathic), emotionally unstable (borderline), dramatic, compulsive, anxious (evasive), dependent, narcissistic and passive aggressive.

The Norwegian study shows that the personality traits which particularly raise the risk of disability are diagnoses as emotionally unstable (borderline), schizoid (very detached and indifferent) and people who develop strong dependencies (lacking will power).

“We found that people who were emotionally unstable and ones who were very detached and socially insecure run a higher risk of being disabled,” says Østby.

Seven-fold risk

If you have a personality disorder your risk of being unable to hold down a job can be seven times higher than for the general population.

“We were surprised by this strong link between personality traits and risk of disability,” says Østby.

The risk of disability based on personality disorders was twice as high as for people with anxiety disorders or depression.

Antisocial persons

“But we found out something else that surprised us,” says Østby.

“Persons with manipulative and deceiving personality traits run lower risks of ending up on disablement insurance than the general population. We hadn’t seen that one coming.”  

Kristian Østby says that the results of the study fit in with his medical experience as a general practitioner.

“Many who are given disability are lonely people who lack self-confidence or have poor strategies for mastering daily-life situations.”

“It is often suggested that we have a problem with rampant social security fraud and that many feign problems to avoid working and to get on the dole. But our studies don’t confirm this. On the contrary, we see that those who are on disability pensions as a group tend to be less dishonest and manipulative than most others.” 

The doctor thinks this information should be given consideration in political debates about disability benefits.

Important for doctors and the welfare authorities

When family doctors assist their patients in applying for a disability pension the grounds given are often rather diffuse diagnoses linked to muscular and skeletal disorders, or anxiety and depression.

Hardly anyone is granted a disability pension primarily because of a personality disorder.

“Now that we have shown such a strong association between personality traits and disability, we who are MDs, social and welfare workers and politicians should be more aware of the link. Personality disorders often go undiagnosed. This is also important to remember,” says Kristian Østby.


Read the Norwegian version of this article at

Translated by: Glenn Ostling

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