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Mothers have a higher sickness absence than fathers

15 March 2011 Expertsvar

Before they have children, men and women are approximately equally often absent from work due to illness. But after the birth of their first child, the mother has about twice as many days of absence due to illness as the father. This difference remains up until 15 years after the birth of the first child. This is shown in a new report from the Institute of Labour Market Policy Evaluation in Sweden.

 There are considerable differences in the sickness absence between women and men. In the first half of 2008, 14.5 million days of sickness absence were paid out to women and 9.2 million to men. This is not a specific Swedish phenomenon but characterizes countries with a large share of women on the labour market. While men and women have about the same level of sickness absence before the birth of the first child, the sickness absence of women is twice as high after the birth of the first child and up until 15 years after that.

There has been an increase in the difference in the last 30 years
The Swedish women have had a higher sickness absence than men since the 1980's. Until the last few years, there has even been a continuous increase in this difference. This new study indicates that this increase is related to the fact that there is an increase in the number of hours of gainful employment for women, in particular women with small children. In 1980, 30 percent of the women worked full time, for example, as compared to 50 percent in 2007.

 – Gainful employment, combined with women taking a larger responsibility for children and family, might be an explanation, according to professor Per Johansson.

 A gender segregated labour market does not explain the differences
The differences between men and women cannot be explained by women more often working within lines of business and sectors with a bad working environment. Women have a larger sickness absence in all lines of business, notwithstanding if women or men are the dominating group.

Norms play an important role for sickness absence
–  There seems to have been a slow decrease in the threshold for using the sickness insurance in the period studied, says Per Johansson. A larger number of people who claim to be of average or good health today receive benefits from the Regional Social Insurance Office (Försäkringskassan). In particular, this applies for women.

 Authors:  Nikolay Angelov, Per Johansson, Erica Lindahl and Elly-Ann Johansson

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