Health, Work and Society

Social class, Gender and Ethnic Differences

Et eldre par står på en perrong og et tog suser forbi

Main content

Even though welfare states have contributed to equalizing the distribution of welfare, opportunities in modern societies are still highly correlated to social factors such as class, gender, family, ethnicity, and age, and the impact of such factors are likely to change across history and between countries (38). The purpose of this project is to study social class, gender and ethnic differences in sick leave using different sources of individual level longitudinal data.

         Despite voluminous research on class differences in health and some research on sickness absence, very few studies investigate class differences in sickness absence (e.g., 12, 39, 35). Class differences in sickness absence may result from factors such as work condition, education, gender, ethnicity, family situation, and health selection. Theoretical derived indicators of social class are more likely to lead to an understanding of class differences in health compared to more common used measures such as income, education and social status (40). In this project we will accordingly evaluate the validity and the relevance of four well established class schemes, and also investigate different socioeconomic schemes. The first paper will use data from the Norwegian Level of Living Survey (1996, 2000, 2003, 2006), following up and broadening (39). The second article will link information about sickness absence (and possible also disability pension) to “The Generation Data Base” at the Norwegian Social Science Data Services (the linking depends on a concession). Thus we can address intra- and intergenerational mechanisms and investigate hypotheses of health selection, “healthy worker effect” and of “cumulative cycle of disadvantages”, i.e. the question if social groups are not only disadvantaged incurred to their origin, but also as a result of other social processes. The third article will be based on the HUNT database, and will investigate the topic of health selection. These three articles shall be a part of PhD in sociology.

         We shall also address how sickness absence is related to gender and family. Several explanations for the observed gender difference in sickness absence have been suggested. A number of studies evaluate whether the burden of domestic labour due to child care increases sickness absence among mothers (41). (42) find that the number of children has an adverse impact on sickness absence of married women with a stable labour market relation. In this project we shall use the longitudinal FD-trygd data to study the relationship between number of children and sickness absence also for fathers, controlling for individuals’ occupation and workplace.

         We shall also consider ethnic differences in sickness absence. A possible policy response to the problem of an aging population is to admit more migrants from non-Western countries. However, the effect depends on immigrants’ labour force participation. Individuals immigrating to European countries, in particular non-western immigrants, are found to be overrepresented in low-paid jobs and have poorer health (43) and higher likelihood of sickness absence (44, 45). Like many OECD countries non-Western immigrants in Norway have higher sick leave as compared with natives. Using FD-trygd data we shall evaluate the impact of occupation and work place on natives and non-Western immigrants. We shall examine whether the non-Western immigrants have less healthy jobs as compared with natives. Due to social norms of the country of origin non-Western immigrants may have more gender-based division of labour in households as compared with natives, leading to higher level of sickness absence of non-Western immigrant women. We shall also compare the aforementioned burden of domestic labour due to child care of native women with non-Western immigrant women.