Single moms stay off work longer than other parents after injury, IWH study finds

Single moms more likely to take longer to recover, but less likely to get benefits when injured

Published: August 10, 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.

But 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.

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 (doi:10.1002/ajim.22351).

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.

Single moms younger, lower earners

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.

Less likely to receive benefits

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.

But not so for single moms. 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.