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Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series - Logo

Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series


Volume 2007
Number 296

Gender Differences in Quits and Absenteeism in Canada

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Gender Differences in Quits and Absenteeism in Canada

by Xuelin Zhang

Executive summary

Female workers are traditionally viewed as more likely to quit, to be absent and to take more days of absence than male workers, and this gender difference is widely used as an important explanation for the gender wage gap and other labour market differences between men and women. This study documents the gender differences in quits and absenteeism in Canada and attempts to assess whether the traditional view is still valid today.

One feature of this study is that it examines permanent and temporary quits separately. In particular, it attempts to see if women substitute permanent quits with temporary quits. The tradition that women completely withdraw from the labour force upon marriage or upon giving birth might have long gone, but they may still experience long- or short-term career interruptions upon giving birth. Hence, substitution between permanent and temporary quits may reveal behavioural changes of women with respect to marriage, child bearing and rearing.

A unique feature of our study on absenteeism is that we control for firm fixed effects. It is arguable that leaves of absence cannot be unilaterally determined by workers. A worker's demand for absences must be agreed by the employer or the manager. Hence, unobservable management style, tradition and generosity towards workers' demands for absence also play important roles. And since these are not directly observable by the analyst, it is important to control for firm fixed effects in modelling work absence.

We use the Longitudinal Worker File (LWF) over the 1983-to-2003 period to examine the annual quit rates of Canadian men and women. The LWF is created by the Business and Labour Market Analysis (BLMA) Division of Statistics Canada. It is a 10% random sample of all Canadian workers. The advantages of the LWF are that it is a very large random sample of all Canadian workers and it provides accurate information due to its administrative nature.

We use data from Statistics Canada's Workplace and Employee Surveys (WES) to examine gender differences in absenteeism. WES is a linked employer and employee survey. The target population of employers are business locations operating in Canada. WES draws its workplace sample from Statistics Canada's Business Register, a list of all businesses in Canada. The employee sample is drawn from the lists of employees provided by surveyed workplaces. The targeted population is all employees in the selected workplaces.

With LWF, we found that the permanent quit rates of Canadian workers peaked in the late 1980s, and the permanent quit rates of men and women converged since the early 1990s. The convergence is not accompanied by a divergence of their temporary quit rates, and hence, there is no evidence that women substituted permanent quits with temporary quits. When quits due to pregnancy were taken into consideration, the converging trends in permanent quit rates for men and women remained intact.

We found women were more likely than men to take paid sick absences and they also took more days of paid sick absences than men. However, the differences were quite small. In addition, we found there were practically no gender differences in the incidence and the lengths of other paid and unpaid absences. The only exception was that women with one or more young children (under 5 years old) appeared to take more days of unpaid absences than women without young children.

Taken together, our findings imply that the gender differences in quit rates and absenteeism may not be used to explain the gender differences in labour market outcomes such as the gender wage gap.

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