Research backs Thompson's period comments

Was Alasdair Thompson right? The menstrual cycle accounts for 12% of the gender pay gap, according to recent research.

UPDATE 11.30am: Under-fire EMA boss Alasdair Thompson’s comments about female absenteeism due to menstrual cycles may have been right, according to a recent research paper.

A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, Biological Gender Differences, Absenteeism and the Earning Gap, found higher absenteeism due to the menstrual cycle accounted for nearly 12% of the gender pay gap.

The paper, written by Andrea Ichino and Enrico Moretti, was published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics in 2009.

It said, “In most Western countries illness-related absenteeism is higher among female workers than among male workers.

“Using the personnel dataset of a large Italian bank, we show that the probability of an absence due to illness increases for females, relative to males, approximately 28 days after a previous illness.

“This difference disappears for workers age 45 or older. We interpret this as evidence that the menstrual cycle raises female absenteeism.

“Absences with a 28-day cycle explain a significant fraction of the male-female absenteeism gap.”

To investigate the effect of absenteeism on earnings, they used a model in which employers couldn’t directly observe workers' productivity, and therefore used observable characteristics – including absenteeism – to set wages.

The researchers said men are absent from work because of “health and shirking reasons” while women face an “additional exogenous source of health shocks due to menstruation.”

They calculated the earnings cost for women associated with menstruation.

“We find that higher absenteeism induced by the 28-day cycle explains 11.8% of the earnings gender differential.” 


6am: Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) head Alasdair Thompson does not intend to resign after an uproar over his comment that women got paid less because they took sick days when they had their period.

"Brain explosion"
The Green Party and the Council of Trade Unions called for Mr Thompson to stand down, while National's Kate Wilkinson - Minister of Labour - said the EMA boss had appeared to have suffered a "brain explosion".

Employment and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said Mr Thompson's comments were "archaic", adding, "He sounded a bit like a dinosaur to me."

Mr Thompson said he was sorry for causing offence but stood by his overall argument.

Stats gap
On Campbell Live last night, Mr Thompson said he could not offer any specific information to back his claim, but knew it was true from women from his own experience and that of the employers he represents.

"I know it's an awful thiing to say but it's true," the EMA boss said, of his claim that women take more leave and are less productive because "once a month they have sick problems"

National's Ms Wilkinson begged to differ. The minster told parliament's transport and industrial relations select committee that "If that was the case there would be many of us entitled to about 12 years' sick pay ... It's outrageous."

"Walk out"
Mr Thompson compounded his problems with an awkward interview on Campbell Live last night.

Taking issue with the reporter Mihingarangi Forbes approach, Mr Thompson stood up and walked to the door of his office, seemingly set to walk out on the interview.

But he changed his his mind, and after pacing around his office got into a stand-up argument with Ms Forbes.

The EMA boss said he thought the camera had stopped rolling (see an extended version of the interview on TV3's website here; a transcript of Mr Thompson's original comments is in NBR's story from yesterday here).

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