A blog post

Getting ill from divorce?

Posted on the 16 November, 2014 at 12:05 am Written by in Books, Research

In Norway, now, there is a debate on sick leave – why is it so much higher for women, than for men.

A new report finds that divorce has a big effect on sick leave, especially at the time of the divorce, but later also. The long term higher sick leave effect of breakup or divorce is largest among women with children (Bakken, Jonas Blich; Haug, Anne Kari: Blir syke av skilsmisser. Dagens Næringsliv 15.11.14).

Much of this new empirical picture was shown already in a 2006 survey (Foreningen 2 Foreldre – Synovate MMI: Sorg uten blomster. En undersøkelse av omfanget av sykefravær og annet fravær ved samlivsbrudd [Sorrow without flowers. A survey of the extent of sickness leave and other leave in couple relationship break-ups]).

The 2006 survey showed that breakups and divorces are costly, in psychosocial terms, and also in economic terms, for employers. It was also found that many of the target respondents had trouble responding; they felt so bad about the breakup.

Interestingly, this exploratory survey – 8 years before the more “mainstream” research now reported in the media – was created through the initiative of what had in many ways been a father’s right group (Foreningen 2 foreldre [The two parents association]), now turning the critical flashlight from bad mothers to the costs of divorce.

This came about through the intervention of the Gender equality center, at my proposal, to get the children’s rights associated NGO organisations to talk together, regardless of their differences.

At the meeting at the Gender equality center, the mother’s organization (Aleneforeldreforeningen [The single parent association]) and the two parent association were present. I argued that if mother organizations and father organizations just quarrel, we will never get further, so instead we should focus on what is common for all – a concern for the child. This strategy paid off. Instead of just attacking unreasonable mothers, the fathers’ association created an innovative agency: let us look at what divorces actually imply.

This approach got support from the employer’s union. Thereby a survey was made in 2006 that in many ways predicts the new 2014 study results. I was part of the advisory group of the 2006 study, along with other experts like the psychologist Frode Thuen.