Occupations and Sickness-Related Absences during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Thomas Lyttelton*, Emma Zang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Pandemic frontline occupations consist of disproportionately low socioeconomic status and racial minority workers. Documenting occupational health disparities is therefore crucial for understanding COVID-19-related health inequalities in the United States. This study uses Current Population Survey microdata to estimate occupational differences in sickness-related absences (SAs) from work in March through June 2020 and their contribution to educational, racial-ethnic, and nativity health disparities. We find that there has been an unprecedented rise in SAs concentrated in transportation, food-related, and personal care and service occupations. SA rates were 6 times higher in these occupations than in non-health-care professions. The greatest increases were in occupations that are unsuitable for remote work, require workers to work close to others, pay low wages, and rarely provide health insurance. Workers in these occupations are disproportionately Black, Hispanic, indigenous, and immigrants. Occupation contributes 41% of the total of Black/white differences and 54% of educational differences in SAs.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Health and Social Behavior
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)19-36
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Published online: 31 Jan 2022.


  • COVID-19
  • Occupation
  • Occupational health
  • Sickness absences
  • Socioeconomic disparities
  • Structural racism

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