Labor markets have local particularities that are sometimes rather difficult to explain. For example, US workers get little vacation, yet often do not even use it fully, while their European counterparts use all of their much longer off-time. Or, Italians have the right to strike, which they interpret as an obligation in the transport industry, where if in a particular year there are strike days left, they quickly find a reason to be unhappy before New Year. Where these quirks originate is difficult to tell, so it is of particular interest to study one that recently appeared.
Erik Biørn, Simen Gaure, Simen Markussen and Knut Røed absenteeism in Norway has notably increased in the past two decades. Nowadays, 6.5% of hours are lost, and this despite better health and no change in the legal or policy environment. Studying this requires excellent data, which is not available. The authors use data on long-term (more than 16 days) absentees, which should help uncover part of the story. They find that absenteeism rises with age, except for a hump for women in their twenties (pregnancies?), which should not be a surprise. Once adjusted for age, they also find that absenteeism has increased within individuals, and this even more than in aggregate. This means that the aggregate outcome is not due to new and lazy cohorts. Also, workers that had higher tendencies towards being absent have been sorted out of the labor force. Unless the short-term absentees dramatically reverse these results, the puzzle about this rise in absenteeism remains.