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Single moms more likely to stay off work longer after injury, study finds


August 8, 2014
By Institute for Work and Health

Aug. 8, 2014 – One might expect that single parents with children living at home may be less inclined to take time off work following a work-related injury. After all, they tend to shoulder a greater burden of putting food on the table than people raising kids in marriages or common-law relationships.

However, according to a new study, single mothers are more likely to need long recovery time than moms and dads with partners, and even single dads.

In that study, Institute for Work & Health (IWH) researcher Dr.
Imelda Wong defined long recovery time as seven days off work or more.
Her finding is all the more surprising given that single moms are less
likely than other types of parents to receive workers’ compensation.

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“Despite
being more likely to experience longer work absences, single moms are
less likely to access workers’ compensation,” says Wong, a Mustard
Post-Doctoral Fellow at IWH.

Her study on work-injury absence and
compensation among partnered and lone mothers and fathers has been
published online, ahead of print by the American Journal of Industrial
Medicine.

Wong’s theory at the outset of the study was that
single parents would come back to work sooner than others following a
work injury. She believed this would be the case because time away from
work can mean financial strain and higher risk of job loss, especially
for parents working in jobs that offer fewer benefits and less job
protection.

For the study, Wong drew on the Survey of Labour and
Income Dynamics (SLID), an annual Statistics Canada survey of a
representative sample of Canadian households. After filtering for wage
earners aged 16 to 69 living with children under 25, she had a sample of
about 88,000 respondents.

In Wong’s sample, 11 per cent were
single mothers and three per cent were single fathers. As a group, the
single parents tended to be younger than parents with partners. They
also had significantly less education and less job tenure. Single
parents were more likely to be low earners. The proportion of single
moms in the lowest income bracket (40 per cent) was nearly twice that of
single dads (22 per cent) and nearly three times that of married or
common-law mothers and fathers (15 per cent and 16 per cent
respectively).

When it comes to time off work after an injury,
single moms were considerably more likely – 50 per cent more – than
partnered fathers (the reference group) to be off work for seven or more
days. This greater likelihood was seen after taking into account
different factors, including socioeconomic and job-related factors.

No
difference was seen between single dads and partnered dads. Partnered
moms were slightly less likely than partnered dads to be off work for
seven or more days, but that difference was so small it may have been
due to chance.

“There’s something going on with single moms,”
says Wong. Among the other parents, those who tended to be off work
seven days or more after a work injury were also the ones who tended to
get benefits.

Not so for single moms, however. Although they’re
50 per cent more likely than the others to be off work seven days or
more, they’re less likely to receive benefits. And while single moms are
more represented in groups that are both less likely to get workers’
compensation benefits and less likely to be off work – i.e. those who
are young, who have less work tenure, and who work in temp, seasonal or
casual jobs – for some reason, they’re more likely to be off work longer
after an injury. Due to the kind of data available, however, Wong is
unable to probe further for what the reasons might be.

“We don’t
know what it is about being a single mom that’s putting them at greater
risk of being off work for seven days,” says Wong. “Could it be the
type of injuries they incur? Or could it be the type of work they do?”
It may also be, for example, that single moms work in the kinds of jobs
that are less modifiable or in workplaces that are less able to offer
accommodation.