More minor health problems and generally poorer working conditions may be to blame for a Finnish study’s findings that women are about 50 percent more likely to take a few sick days off from work compared to their male counterparts.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland studied periods of sick leave among female and male workers between 2002 and 2005. The employees, all of whom were between 40 and 60 years old, were also asked about their working lives and general health.
Results showed that female employees reported more physical health problems, physical work demands, and work fatigue than male employees.
Moreover, women were 46 percent more likely than men to call in sick from work for a few days.
According to Dr. Mikko Laaksonen, “Some may ask whether this is due to the women actually having more health problems or just reacting differently to such problems, but we saw no differences in the reactions to illness among men and women. So women do not seem to be more vulnerable to health and work related problems.”
Although researchers asked the study participants about family-related factors which might cause an employee to take short-term sick leave from work, they found that the effects of family-related factors on sickness absence from work were minimal. After adjusting for family-related factors, self-reported chronic disease, and working conditions, researchers found that women were still about one-third more likely to take short-term sick leave from work.
“This is consistent with my experience,” said Dr. Randall Longenecker, assistant dean for rural medical education at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. But despite the study’s finding that women and men react no differently to illness, Longenecker believes this is one of the primary reasons women take more sick days from work than men in the U.S.
“I suspect it is related to the same reason that women are more likely to seek medical care for illness,” Longenecker said. “In our culture, men are much more likely to use denial as a defense mechanism generally, and are less likely to acknowledge illness specifically.”
But perhaps the most culturally inconsistent finding of the study was that family-related issues failed to explain the excess of work absences among female workers.
According to data from the U.S. Labor Department released last November, both married and unmarried women with children report a higher rate of absences from work than those without children. However, the report still found that women without children outpaced men with sick days.