The primary aim of the study was to analyse similarities and differences between repeated spells of short-term sick-leave (more than 3 spells of less than 7 days' duration in a 12-month period) and long-term absence through sickness (at least 1 spell of more than 59 days' duration in a 12-month period) in relation to variables representing certain social circumstances and aspects of the work situation. Particular attention was paid to gender differences. The study, which had a cross-sectional design, employed data from the surveys of living conditions (ULF) conducted by Statistics Sweden over the period 1986-89. The study group comprised 13,828 employed persons between the ages of 16 and 65. The results suggested the existence of a common mechanism by which a variety of factors are related to the taking of both repeated short spells and long-term sick-leave; gender differences with regard to the effect of working conditions on the taking of sick-leave may be incorrectly estimated if factors related to occupational structure are not taken into consideration; a less than additive effect of physical job demands and repeated short spells of sick-leave on subjective health was found.