Women and Absenteeism

Research says expectations about absence from work differ along gender lines.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

PHILADELPHIA (Oct. 23, 2007) — It's Monday morning and you just woke up to a coughing, sneezing child burning with fever from the flu. In families with two working parents an important decision needs to be made: Who stays home? New research says that it's considered more socially acceptable for mom, rather than dad, to be absent from work.

While studies have consistently found that women are absent from work more than men, there has been a lack of theorizing and research explaining why this phenomenon exists. Eric Patton, Ph.D., an assistant professor of management at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, explored expectations surrounding women's absenteeism from work and says that perceptions of family roles are a major contributing factor in creating a separate absence culture for women in the United States.

"The perception that it is more acceptable for women to be absent from work represents a plausible explanation for women's higher rate of absence," Patton concludes.

To conduct the research, Patton and his co-author Gary Johns, Ph.D., looked at 167 New York Times articles on this issue. In fact, over the past century, there have been close to 3,000 articles in this newspaper alone on absence from work, illustrating the prominent level of discourse the issue receives in the public domain. Their research will appear in the November issue of Human Relations.

"The results suggest that a distinct absence culture exists for women that might legitimize their absenteeism, but it might also perpetuate gender stereotypes and lead to gender discrimination," he explains. "Although the press suggests that family duties will lead to absence by women more than men, academic studies that have explored this directly have not found this to be necessarily so."

Patton uncovered several articles that clearly indicate women face barriers in the workplace due to generalized beliefs about their absenteeism. "Organizations need to understand how gender stereotypes influence social expectations to attend work, and be aware of how this might perpetuate bias and discrimination against women workers," he suggests. "If the norms concerning women's absenteeism are built on stereotypes, their perpetuation may be detrimental to women in various aspects of employment."

Media Contact

Carolyn Steigleman, associate director for University Communications, 610-660-1355, csteigle@sju.edu

Expand this section