Background: Today, work disability is one of the greatest social and labour market challenges for policy makers in most OECD countries, where on average, about 6% of the working-age population relies on disability benefits. Understanding of factors associated with long-term work disability may be helpful to identify groups of individuals at risk for disability benefit entitlement or continuing eligibility, and to develop effective interventions for these groups. The purpose of this study is to provide insight into the main diagnoses of workers who qualify for disability benefits and how these diagnoses differ in age, gender and education. Using a five-year follow-up, we examined the duration of disability benefits and how durations differ among individuals with various characteristics. Methods: We performed a cohort study of 31,733 individuals receiving disability benefits from the Dutch Social Security Institute (SSI) with a five-year follow-up. Data were collected from SSI databases. Information about disorders was assessed by an insurance physician upon benefit application. These data were used to test for significant relationships among socio-demographics, main diagnoses and comorbidity, and disability benefit entitlement and continuing eligibility. Results: Mental disorders were the most frequent diagnosis for individuals claiming work disability. Diagnoses differed among age groups and education categories. Mental disorders were the main diagnosis for work disability for younger and more highly educated individuals, and physical disorders (generally musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and cancer) were the main diagnosis for older and less educated individuals. In 82% of the claims, the duration of disability benefit was five years or more after approval. Outflow was lowest for individuals with (multiple) mental disorders and those with comorbidity of mental and physical disorders, and highest for individuals with (multiple) physical disorders. Conclusions: The main diagnosis for persons entitled to disability benefits was mental health problems, especially for young women. In a five-year follow-up, claim duration for disability benefits was long lasting for most claimants.