Worker Absence and Productivity: Evidence from Teaching

45 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2010 Last revised: 25 Feb 2021

See all articles by Mariesa A Herrmann

Mariesa A Herrmann

Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Jonah E. Rockoff

Columbia Business School - Finance and Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Date Written: November 2010


A significant amount of work time is lost each year due to worker absence, but evidence on the productivity losses from absenteeism remains scant due to difficulties with identification. In this paper, we use uniquely detailed data on the timing, duration, and cause of absences among teachers to address many of the potential biases from the endogeneity of worker absence. Our analysis indicates that worker absences have large negative impacts: the expected loss in daily productivity from employing a temporary substitute is on par with replacing a regular worker of average productivity with one at the 10th-20th percentile of productivity. We also find daily productivity losses decline with the length of an absence spell, consistent with managers engaging in costly search for more productive substitutes and temporary workers learning on the job. While illness is a major cause of absenteeism among teachers, we find no evidence that poor health also causes lower on-the-job productivity.

Suggested Citation

Herrmann, Mariesa A and Rockoff, Jonah E., Worker Absence and Productivity: Evidence from Teaching (November 2010). NBER Working Paper No. w16524, Available at SSRN:

Mariesa A Herrmann (Contact Author)

Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. ( email )

P.O. Box 2393
Princeton, NJ 08543-2393
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609-716-4544 (Phone)

Jonah E. Rockoff

Columbia Business School - Finance and Economics ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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