Part-Time Work Essay

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Over  the  past  decades,  part-time  work   is  estimated    to   have   grown   worldwide.  However, reliable  data  about  how  many  people  work  part time  is missing because  part-time work  has  little relevance in many developing economies, where institutional structures for formal,  time-regulated working  arrangements are less common.  In these countries,  the hours  of work  are mainly driven by the need to secure an income. Hence, in countries with  a small share  of wage and salaried  workers, such  as  in  South  Asia  and  sub-Saharan  Africa, part-time work  is less meaningful.  In contrast, for countries   in  developed   economies,   such  as  the United States, Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Latin America, and the Caribbean, part-time work  has become highly relevant, especially for women, as models of reduced working  times   have   been   an   important  driver   for increased  female  participation in  (formal)  labor markets.

Because of these differences, as well as diverging standards for “normal working  time,”  there  is no universal  definition  of part-time work.  According to the International Labor Organization, part-time employment  covers regular  employment  in which working  time is substantially less than  normal. In a similar definition, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) covers all forms  of part-time work,  such  as half-day  work and work for 1 or more days a week. Whereas the category  “full-time  employee”  is relatively  homogeneous  across  OECD-countries, part-time work varies widely, covering any form of work  from 20 percent  or less to 80 percent  or even more of normal working  time. Data and classifications  of part-time work are established according to different approaches, based  on  the  workers  perception of the employment  situation, or a cutoff based on the usual working  hours.


Scientific  attention  toward  part-time  work   has been huge during  the past decades, and the literature stems from different disciplines such as sociology, economics, human geography, and political sciences.  Research  interests  and  questions   range from the motives for, and impacts  on, the decision for part-time work,  its social acceptance,  and  the status  of part-time workers  to the effects of part-time  work  on  households on  the  microlevel  and societies  on  the  macrolevel.  Moreover, part-time work  is perceived  in different  contexts  and  ways, ranging  from  being a result  of involuntary underemployment  (of people  seeking full-time  employment), representing mostly bad jobs in terms of payment  and  career  opportunities, to a voluntary strategy  of people in wealthy  societies who reduce working    time   to   achieve   a   better    work-life balance.

According to economic theories of household behavior, the reduction of working  time is conceptualized  as a choice of partnered households over their specialization of labor. Both partners have to decide on their  share  of house  and  market  work. In the  extreme  case, one  partner engages  only  in housework, whereas  the  other  specializes only  in market  work,  with  several variants  of incomplete specialization represented by different shares of house  and  market  work  by each  of the  partners. From  this perspective,  part-time work  provides  a means  of combining  two  forms  of labor,  market and  domestic  production, while at the same time enabling  persons  to maintain human  capital  (e.g., knowledge, skills, and working experiences), which might  become  lost in periods  of complete  housework.  While  this  approach is gender  neutral, the gender   identity   hypothesis   states   that   gender matters  for decisions on part-time work. The general  argument is that  individuals  act  and  decide within  society’s  constraints, so  their  behavior   is affected by social customs and conditioning. Society’s prescriptions about  appropriate models of labor  and gendered  codes of behavior  influence the decisions of people, who strive for social acceptance and fulfillment of (conditioned) role expectations. Thus, the gender identity hypothesis  predicts that  males will always  tend  to offer less time for housework, whereas  women  might  increase  their life satisfaction by reducing market labor. Moreover, the  economic  situation of  households and  labor market   regulations are  additional variables  that affect the acceptance  and  the importance of part-time work.

Global And Regional  Patterns Of Part-Time Work

According to OECD statistics, western Europe and Japan  showed  high  levels  of  part-time work  in 2012   (more   than   20  percent),   whereas   eastern Europe  had  the lowest  levels (4.3 to 9.7 percent), and  the  United  States  and  Canada ranged  somewhere between 13.4 and 18.8 percent. The Netherlands had  the highest  share  (37.8  percent), indicating  that part-time work has become normal. Part-time  work  is predominantly common  among women.  Female  part-time employment   rates  are particularly high in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and  the  United  Kingdom.  In  these countries, at least one out of three working  women was engaged in part-time work in 2010. In each of the countries,  part-time work  is a female domain, with  the female share  ranging  from  62 percent  in Denmark to 92 percent  in Luxembourg.

However,  in  Denmark, Portugal,  Sweden,  and the  United  Kingdom,   both   the  female  share  of part-time employment   and  the  female  part-time employment  rates decreased after 2000, indicating that  fewer women  in these countries  selected part-time  work.  Moreover, the  increase  in male  part-time workers exceeded that of female part-time workers.  In contrast, in Greece, Ireland,  Italy, and Spain, both  the female share of part-time employment   and   female   part-time  employment   rates increased  over time. These trends  tend  to cement the  character  of  part-time  work   as  a  strongly female  domain   in  the  majority   of  countries   in southern Europe. In the remaining European countries, the figures show  an increase  in female part-time  employment  rates,  accompanied by a slight decline in the female share, indicating  that  men in these countries (especially Austria, Finland, Germany,  and  the Netherlands) have increasingly taken  up part-time employment.

These remarkable differences raise the question about   the  driving  forces  for  part-time work.  In general, disparities  in work hours are explained  by constraints in the choice of options.  These include rigidities in labor  markets  (e.g., from  technical  or organizational requirements of jobs), income restrictions, and  the  work-family   conflict,  which mainly  affects  dual-earner families.  Rigidities  in labor  markets  lead to a mismatch  in demand  and supply  of working  time,  influencing  the  share  of involuntary part-time work  or underemployment. However,  there  is no general  correlation between the number  of full-time jobs and over-or underemployment. OECD statistics show that there are countries  with a high share of part-time work  and low levels of underemployment, such as the Netherlands, the  United  Kingdom,  Norway, and Denmark. Research  supports the  significance  of income on the preference to work. High household incomes increase the preference for reduced  working time, and vice versa.

Other economic variables that (negatively) influence part-time work are unemployment levels and  income  inequalities.  The  effect of the  work-family  conflict  on  part-time work  is ambiguous. Studies for the United States support the hypothesis that  a  reduction of  work  time  to  coordinate family and work is mainly realized by women, whereas   men  tend   to  work   full  time,  or  even increase their working  time. In cross-country comparisons,  the  gender  effect is less strong,  offering large differences between (mostly European) countries.   However,    recent   studies   based   on   the European Social Survey have shown  that  full-time working  women with small children have a significantly stronger  preference  to reduce their working time  than  men  in the  same  situation, or  women without  children.   Moreover,  the   prevalence   of part-time  work   depends   on   the   acceptance   of reduced working  time. Countries with large shares of part-time work  show significantly  more preference among full-time workers for reduced working time. This  implies  that  a  growing  share  of part-time work helps to generally change the perception of full-time jobs as the norm  on labor  markets. At least in wealthy  societies, people seem to trade  off time needed for family and friends against their participation in paid  work.  A reduction of work hours  serves as a means  to  reduce  time  pressure and to improve the work-life balance, the hours of work  satisfaction, and general life satisfaction.


  1. Booth, A. L. and J. C. Van Ours. “Hours of Work and Gender  Identity:  Does Part-Time  Work  Make  the Family Happier?” Economica, v.76 (2009).
  2. Laurijssen, I. and I. Glorieux. “Balancing Work  and Family: A Panel Analysis of the Impact  of Part-Time Work  on the Experience  of Time Pressure.” Social Indicators  Research, v.112 (2013).
  3. Wielers, R., M. Münderlein, and F. Koster. “Part-Time Work and Work  Hour: An International Comparison.” European  Sociological Review,  20/1 (2014).

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