Background. To analyze the correlation between sickness absence, working conditions, pregnancy outcomes and pregnancy associated social benefits in two urban pregnant populations in Sweden and Norway with different social benefit systems.
Methods. Relevant information on 1649 delivered women was manually extracted by the authors from the antenatal care and delivery records as well as from the personal social security files kept in the Värnamo and Hamar communities, and then computerized in a depersonalized form.
Results. The reproductive histories and the pregnancy outcomes appeared clinically similar in the two samples. Swedish pregnant women were significantly more often employed outside home (84 vs. 69 per cent). The types of occupations held were similar in Värnamo and Hamar. Swedish pregnant women were significantly more sick-listed during pregnancy than Norwegian women (64 vs. 32 per cent) and with a longer average duration of the sick-leave spells (61 days vs. 44 days). The sick-leave rate among Swedish employed pregnant women was 75 per cent as compared to 48 per cent in Norway. The differences appeared most evident in younger pregnant women (<25 years). The Swedish sick-leave rates were higher within all four occupational subgroups studied. During the observation period the pregnancy associated social benefits were significantly more generous in Sweden.
Conclusions. Sickness absence during pregnancy does not seem to covariate in a simple way with ill health, working conditions or the amount of social benefits available. The increased sick-leave rates in Sweden may possibly be accounted for by a changing attitude towards pregnancy and its natural consequences, especially among younger women.
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