Women and Sick Leave

There has been a major brouhaha in New Zealand over the last couple of days over remarks made by the CEO of the Employers and Manufacturers Association, Alisdair Thompson. He cited sick leave as the reason for women being paid less than men.

Who takes the most sick leave? Women do, in general. Why? Because once a month they have sick problems. Not all of them, but some do. They have children that they have to take time off to go home and take leave of. Therefore it’s their productivity. It’s not their fault.

It wasn’t long before there was a paroxysm of outrage from feminists and Mr Thompson joined the ranks of the unemployed.

But was he right? Do women take more sick leave than men, and is it justifiable to pay them less than men for that reason?

Statistics are available for several countries, including New Zealand. Here are some of them:

  • In the New Zealand civil service in 2010 men took 6.8 days sick leave and women took 8.4 days on average.
  • In a 2004 survey in the UK, on any given day an average of 1.4% of men and 2.1% of women were on sick leave.
  • Swedish data indicate that women take about 1.5 days sick leave per quarter against 1 day for men.

So the statistics say that women are off work due to illness about 2 days per year more than men. Assuming that there are 200 working days per year these figures would justify a difference in salary of about 1%, not the 12% differential that actually prevails in New Zealand.

However, I don’t believe for a moment that the reason women are paid less has anything to do with sick leave, as Mr Thompson probably knows. The real reason is simply that women are prepared to work for less, and companies, as any wage slave knows, will pay the minimum amount possible to keep workers at their desks or machines.

Is it moral to discriminate against a group of people based on some statistical characteristic of that group? My every instinct says no, that people should be treated as unique individuals who should be judged on their own individual qualities. For example, some motor insurance premiums are higher for male drivers because statistically men have more accidents than women. I feel aggrieved because in the roughly four decades I have been a driver I have only claimed once, and that was because my car was kicked by a horse. I don’t hear mens’ liberationists (masculinists?) going into spittle-flying rages about this, or the CEOs of insurance companies being fired because of it.

But then it’s fine to be sexist provided you are a woman, and it’s OK to be a racist as long as you’re black.

Creative Commons License
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License

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