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Swedish lifestyle stops women working

Demands of modern working life are taking their toll on women's working ability as women on long term sick leave outnumber men two to one.

Elements of work and family life. especially traditional family circumstances and inequality in the workplace are associated with long term sick leave taken by Swedish women, reveals research published in the online open access journal BMC Public Health.

In Sweden the welfare system allows for generous maternity leave, long spells of sickness absence with almost full compensation and opportunities to work part time.

Factors associated with taking long term sick leave among women in this study were a self-reported lack of competence for work tasks, high physical and mental demands at work and not enough flexibility or influence over their working lives.

93% of women on sick leave wished to return to work. Although the number of sick leave days claimed ranged from 90 to 381, almost three quarters believed they would return to work within two years.

Dr Helene Sandmark suggests that remaining in the same unsatisfactory job for a number of years could be a risk factor for later long term sick leave. She adds that "Having a first child at an early age, having more children and having the main responsibility for the care of their children as well as working could also contribute."

While many years of part-time work was associated with long term sick leave, over half of the women who wished to return to work said they would be able to do so immediately given the opportunity to work part-time.

Bullying at work was a factor associated with long term sick listing among younger women, especially those working in healthcare and childcare.

"Being able to do your job well and having mobility and flexibility are incredibly important for Swedish women. These need to be promoted for their health benefits." concluded Dr Sandmark. "Women on average are sick for much longer than their male counterparts. A work-life balance is needed, and measures need to be undertaken to improve women's work life and their control over the decisions and actions affecting their lives. This is especially true when it comes to equal opportunities in family relations."

Charlotte Webber | alfa
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