Gender Differences in Absenteeism

By Scott, K. Dow; McClellan, Elizabeth L. | Public Personnel Management, Summer 1990 | Go to article overview

Gender Differences in Absenteeism


Scott, K. Dow, McClellan, Elizabeth L., Public Personnel Management


Gender Differences in Absenteeism

Absenteeism can be an expensive problem in both public and private sector organizations. In 1984, Steers and Rhodes estimated that absenteeism was costing the U.S. economy approximately 38 billion dollars annually. In 1980, over 89 million working hours were being lost each week due to employee absences (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1982). Because absenteeism is so costly, researchers have attempted to identify the factors that cause, or are related to absenteeism so that appropriate solutions can be developed. Unfortunately, findings from empirical research have been neither consistent in terms of identifying the causes of absenteeism nor in terms of identifying solutions which consistently reduce absenteeism. For instance, job satisfaction and personal characteristics (such as age and family size), have been found to be related to absenteeism in some studies, but not related in others. According to Steers and Rhodes (1978), the inconsistency of these findings may be explained by other variables which moderate these relationships.

Scott and Mabes (1984) identified gender as one such moderator. Gender has become a significant employment factor due to the changing nature of the U.S. labor force. In 1940, only 27.4% of adult women were employed, while in 1986, this percentage had risen to 54.7% (U.S. Dept. of Commerce, 1987).

It has been historically assumed that men and women participated in the workforce for different reasons. In the past, men provided the primary source of family income while most women were unpaid homemakers. In recent years, the increase in the number of single parent households, the feminist movement, civil rights legislation, and inflation have all had an effect on changing the make-up of the workforce and the nature of the relationship between women and their jobs. Not only are more women working, they are also holding more diverse jobs; some of which were previously held only be men. While U.S. law demands that men and women be treated equally in the workplace, it must be recognized that men and women are not necessarily alike in their motivation and commitment to work. In fact, identifying those areas where gender-related differences exist may help managers develop policies that will provide a more equitable work environment for all employees.

Attendance is one way in which women differ from men in the workplace. In 1980, the incidence rate of absenteeism for women was 58% higher than men; 7.9% and 5.0%, respectively (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1982). Hedges (1973) postulated that this aggregate rate difference could be explained in part by job factors which are frequently associated with gender. For example, the lower paying and less skilled jobs in which women are more likely to be employed are associated with higher rates of absenteeism (Hedges, 1973). Hedges contended that as employment conditions and cultural roles of men and women became more similar, their patterns of absenteeism will be similar as well. In support of this contention, Hedges (1973) found that when job level was held constant, the gender differences in absenteeism rates narrowed. Leigh (1983), however, found that fundamental differences still existed in absenteeism rates based on gender even when factors such as job level, education and experience were held constant. Higher rates of absenteeism by women may indicate that there may be fundamental differences in the reasons why men and women are absent. This research examines the differences believed to be related to absenteeism behavior in a research setting where men and women hold jobs at the same pay levels.

Literature Review

Previous absenteeism research has examined demographic characteristics and attitudes as they relate to work attendance. Although numerous variables have been found to relate to absenteeism, only those which might exhibit gender-related differences are examined here. …

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