Work–family interference and long-term sickness absence: a longitudinal cohort study

Background: Alongside work environment factors, interference between work and domestic life has been proposed as an important explanation for long-term sickness absence, particularly for women. The aim was to investigate the association between work-to-family interference, family-to-work interference and long-term sickness absence among women and men in different family- and work-related settings. Methods: The study population was a random sample of 2867 gainfully employed adults in Sweden aged 25–50. In 2004, telephone interview data were collected that included questions about family, work and health. The outcome measure was having at least one spell of long-term sickness absence (>14 days) in 2005 based on social insurance register data. Associations were analysed by logistic regression. Results: Work-to-family interference was more common than family-to-work interference and more often reported by women. The overall associations with long-term sickness absence were weak. However, after adjustment for age and self-reported health, work-to-family interference was associated with long-term sick leave among men with higher socioeconomic status (odds ratio 2.87; 95% CI 1.36–6.07), and there was also a tendency to association among women bearing the main responsibility for housework and family (1.59; 0.99–2.54). Conclusions: These findings suggest that work-to-family interference is associated with long-term sickness absence in the working population, but in a gender- and situation-specific manner. Hence, extensive work responsibilities for men, and probably extensive family responsibilities for women, could hamper the balance between work and family and increase the risk of long-term sick leave. Further studies are warranted within this area.


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