Background: Most studies show that women have considerably higher rates of sickness absence than men, but little is known on how the gender gap has developed over time. Methods: Data are taken from the EU Labour Force Surveys. The dependent variable is whether the respondent reports being away from work the entire reference week or not. Trends are shown from 1980 onwards. Poisson regression is used to estimate relative risks for women vs. men, with various sets of control variables. Results: Increasing gross differences in sickness absence between women and men are found in five countries: Spain, Ireland, France, Belgium and the UK. No trend in the gender gap is found in Netherlands and Portugal, and probably even in Italy. The trends in the gender gap have been largely the same for men and women without children at home as in the population as a whole. The trends are little affected by control for detailed occupation and industry. Conclusion: The gender gap in sickness absence has increased in five out of eight countries. This is not due to increased labour force participation by mothers of small children, and neither can it be explained as a result of changes in how women and men are distributed across occupations or industries.
This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in European Journal of Public Health following peer review. The version of record is available online at: https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/cku075