Inequalities in Sickness Absence between Finnish and Swedish Speakers in Finland: A Register-Based Study

Kaarina Reini, Åbo Akademi University
Jan Saarela, Åbo Akademi University


One of the aims of the current reform of Finnish social and health care system is to reduce the health gap between different population groups. Finnish- and Swedish-speakers in Finland provide an interesting study setting for observing health inequalities and possible reasons for their existence. Literature shows that Swedish-speakers have a certain health advantage over Finnish-speakers such as lower rates of disability pension and mortality. Here, we examine whether they differ in the receipt of sickness benefit, which is a previously unexplored objective health measure in this context.

Materials and methods

The individual-level data used come from the Finnish longitudinal population register. They cover the period 1987-2011, and consist of five per cent of all Finnish speakers and 20 per cent of all Swedish speakers. To estimate the likelihood of receiving sickness benefit in prime working ages, and account for multiple occurrences at the individual level over the study period, we estimate logistic regression models with generalized estimating equations.


We find that, even when we control for a number of socioeconomic and demographic background factors, Finnish-speaking men are on average 30 per cent more likely to receive sickness benefit than Swedish-speaking. In women, the difference is approximately 15 per cent. We also observe some indication of healthy worker effect. These results corroborate previous research based on other objective health measures, and are expected also from the perspective that sickness absence is a predictor of disability pension and mortality.


Since sickness absence causes substantial costs for the society, these results can be utilised in policy making processes that aim to lower sickness absence rates and thus help in equalising health differences.

Presented in Session 80: Health Dynamics