Sickness absence due to musculoskeletal diagnoses: association with occupational gender segregation

Scand J Public Health. 2004;32(2):94-101. doi: 10.1080/14034940310006195.


Background: Musculoskeletal disorders represent a considerable public health problem and the most common diagnoses behind sickness absence and disability pensions. However, little is known about how sickness absence with these diagnoses varies with the strong gender segregation of the labour market.

Aims: A study was undertaken to investigate the association between musculoskeletal-related sickness absence and occupational gender segregation.

Methods: The study was population based, and included all new sick-leave spells exceeding seven days due to musculoskeletal diagnoses, comprising neckl shoulder pain, low back pain, and osteoarthritis in Ostergötland county, Sweden, which has 393,000 inhabitants (5%, of the national population). The participants were all sick-leave insured employed persons in Ostergötland (n = 182,663) in 1985.

Results: Cumulative incidence of musculoskeletal-related sickness absence (>7 days) was higher for women (7.5%, 95% confidence interval [C.I.] 7.3-7.7) than for men, (5.8%, C.I. 5.6-5.9), and the same was true for the mean number of sick-leave days (women 81, C.I. 78-83; men 65, C.I. 63-68). Grouping occupations according to degree of numerical gender segregation revealed the highest incidence and duration of sickness absence for women in male-dominated occupations. For both genders, the lowest cumulative incidence and duration occurred in gender-integrated occupations.

Conclusions: Our results indicate a strong association between occupational gender segregation and musculoskeletal-related sickness absence. Further studies are needed to elucidate gender segregation of the labour market in relation to health and rehabilitation measures.

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / diagnosis
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / rehabilitation
  • Occupations*
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sick Leave / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sweden / epidemiology