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April 1995, Vol. 118, No. 4
Donald R. Williams
O ver the past three decades, the proportion of U.S. workers employed part time has grown rapidly.1 For example, in 1957, the part-time employment rate was 12.1 percent, compared with 18.5 percent in 1990.2 This increase, however, mask a significant decline in rate during the late 1970's and a falloff from a peak of 20.6 percent in 1982 to the 18.5 percent figure of 1990.3 The trend is primarily the result of marked decline in the rate of part-time employment among women, set against only moderate increases in the rate among men. Still, the rate of part-time work for women is considerably greater than for men.
Although previous analyses of changes in the rate of part-time employment have focused chiefly on its growth, the insights they offer may be useful in identifying the sources of the decline in the rate as well. On the supply side has been the rapid growth of segments of the labor force with historically high propensities for part-time employment; women, teenagers, and older workers. Their greater preference for part-time work is usually attributed to a desire for greater flexibility of scheduling or fewer hours, because of home responsibilities, school, and health,4 or to the use (among older workers) of part-time employment as a bridge to retirement.5 One supply-side factor found not to have contributed to the growth of part-time work has been the overall growth in unemployment.6 Interestingly, the supply-side explanations have zeroed in on changes in the size of groups with strong preferences for part-time work, rather than on changes in the preferences themselves.
Demand-side factors are twofold. First is the argument that firms are increasing their use of part-timers in order to decrease costs of production.7 Lower costs are made possible through fewer fringe benefits,8 less overtime pay,9 the declining influence of unions,10 and greater productivity or efficiency by part-time workers.11 Second is the trend on the part of firms to gear more of their jobs toward part-time workers. For example, jobs in the retail sector are well suited to part-timers, with an emphasis on daily or weekly peak hours and on flexible schedules,12 as are low-skilled jobs with routine and repetitive tasks.13
Of course, there may be interactions between various factors, such as the growth of the female labor force perhaps facilitating the growth of retail trade and the move toward low-skill jobs possibly being in response to a growing low-skill labor force.
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1 The Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies an individual as a part-time worker if the total hours the individual had worked during the week is less than 35. Recent work by Julie L. Hotchkiss ("The Definition of Part-time Employment: A switching regression Model with Unknown Sample Selection," International Economic Review, November 1991, pp. 899-917) indicates that the 35-hour cutoff does not apply to many part-time workers in a practical sense. Still, the BLS definition is used throughout this article. Note that the definition refers to total hours at all jobs, not hours per job, so that the statistics commonly reported do not measure the prevalence of part-time jobs. Indeed, an individual holding several part-time jobs could be counted as one full-time person, depending on the total weekly hours he or she has worked.
2 Recent articles highlighting this growth are by Chris Tilly ("Reasons for the continuing growth of part-time employment," Monthly Labor Review, March 1991, pp. 10-18) and Bernard E. Ichniowski and Anne E. Preston ("New Trends in Part-time Employment," Proceedings of the 38th Annual Meeting of the Industrial Relations Research Association (Madison, WI, Industrial Relations Research Association, 1986), pp. 60-67).
3 Rates are calculated from Labor Force Statistics Derived from the Current Population Survey, 1948-87, Bulletin 2307 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1988); and Employment and Earnings (Bureau of Labor Statistics, various issues). Note that there is a difference between the proportion of the employed who work part time, which is the focus of this article, and the proportion of the labor force or of the population who work part time. It is possible to have the first of these fall and the other two rise over time if the overall employment rate increases sufficiently.
4 See, for example, Tilly, "Growth of part-time employment"; and Thomas J Nardone, "Part -time workers: who are they?" Monthly Labor Review, February 1986, pp. 13-19.
5 See Christopher J. Ruhm, "Bridge Jobs and Partial Retirement," Journal of Labor Economics, October 1990, pp. 482-501
6 See Tilly, "Growth of part-time employment"; and Ichniowski and Preston, Part-time Employment."
7 For an interesting analysis of the demand for part-time workers, see Mark Montgomery, "On the Determinants of Employer Demand for Part-time Workers," Review of Economics and Statistics, February 1988, pp. 112-17.
8 See Ichniowski and Preston , "Part-time Employment"; and 9to5, Working at the Margins (Cleveland, National Association of Working Women, 1986). Ichniowski and Preston found that in 1977 the probability of receiving a fringe benefit was between 11 and 25 percentage points lower for part-time than for full-time workers. In 1987, 17.8 percent of part-time workers had direct health insurance coverage, compared with 68.2 percent of full-time workers. (See Seila R. Zedlewski, Expanding the Employer-Provided health Insurance System, Report 91-3 (Washington, Urban Institute Press, 1991).) The difference in treatment is largely attributable to institutional factors. For example, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act does not require employers to provide pensions to employees working fewer than 1,000 hours per year (about 20 hours per week). The historically high proportions of married women and teenagers among the part-time worker population, who often are covered by the insurance plan of a spouse or parent, have afforded a further incentive to employers to forego offering health care benefits to part-timers.
9 Richard S. Belous, The Contingent Economy: The Growth of the temporary, Part-time and Subcontracted Workforce (Washington, National Planning Association, 1989)
10 See Tilly, "Growth of part-time employment"; and 9to5, Working at the Margins.
11 Jean Hallaire, Part-time Employment: Its Extent and Its Problems (Paris, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 1968)
13 Stanley D. Nollen, Brenda Broz Eddy, and Virginia Hider Martin, Permanent Part-time Employment (New York, Praeger, 1978).
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