Background: There is a heightened need for the practitioner to be alert to the determinants of functional limitations and disabilities owing to the ageing workforce. Aim: This study investigated the association between work type and disability in older age in both the paid and the previously unexplored, unpaid worker (household labour). Methods: Data on demographic factors, physical measurements, work history and functional status were collected on three hundred and fifty seven 57-80-year-olds. Past or present work was identified as either physically demanding or not. Functional limitations and activities of daily living (ADL) disabilities were assessed using validated scales. Logistic regression was used to examine the relationship between the dependent variables and work type (physically demanding work or not physically demanding work). Results: Over half of the sample reported doing physically demanding work. 20 % had complete function (n = 67), 65 % (n = 223) functional limitations and 15 % (n = 53) ADL disability. Physically demanding work was associated with functional limitations [OR 2.52 (1.41, 4.51), p = 0.01] and ADL disability [OR 2.10 (1.06, 4.17), p = 0.03] after adjustment for a measure of obesity and gender. When gender stratified, looking only at females, physically demanding work was associated with ADL disability [OR 2.79 (1.10, 7.07), p = 0.03] adjusted for a measure of obesity and household labour. Conclusions: Physically demanding work was related to functional limitations and ADL disability in older age. This is valuable information to inform practitioners in the treatment of older people with functional limitations and disabilities and in guiding interventions in the prevention of work related disability. © 2012 Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland.