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Swedish absenteeism subject of new dissertation


Absenteeism for sickness is exceptionally high in Sweden, in both historical and international comparisons. Several studies have already been carried out in the field, but many pieces of the puzzle are still missing. In a new dissertation from Växjö University, the economist Maria Nilsson examines some fundamental mechanisms behind this absenteeism.

"Our attendance at work is influenced both by the possibility of being there and the motivation to be there or, more simply put: every morning we make a decision to go to work or stay at home. This decision is affected by how we feel, what duties we have, and our motivation to go to work," explains Maria Nilsson. "In other words there are many more factors that impact absenteeism besides pure health concerns."

The dissertation consists of three sections. The first study focuses on the importance of the structure of the sickness compensation system by analyzing the many reforms that were implemented in the 1990s. The dissertation shows that each reform that reduced sickness benefits was followed by reduced absenteeism for sickness. "It’s obvious that sickness absenteeism is influenced by how large the benefits are," says Maria Nilsson. "When we make that decision to go to work in the morning, we factor in a number of different aspects, including our economy."

The second study in the dissertation focuses on gender differences in absenteeism. Women are home from work more often than men, and among women it is a minority of 40% that account for the bulk of absences. The women in this group are have low incomes, a low level of education, several children, and are often single mothers. "In other words, they are a group facing tough living conditions, a group that often find it difficult to cope with their lives."

The third study, finally, focuses on differences in absenteeism between Swedish- and foreign-born employees. Foreign-born employees have higher rates of absenteeism than Swedish-born, especially regarding their share of long-term sick leaves. "Even though I have access to a rich store of information, I can only explain a tiny part of the difference. There must be other reasons that are difficult to measure. My conclusion is that the integration process itself influences the amount of absence," says Maria Nilsson.

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