KILM 6. Part-time workers
The indicator on part-time workers focuses on individuals whose working hours total less than “full time”, as a proportion of total employment. Because there is no agreed international definition as to the minimum number of hours in a week that constitute full-time work, the dividing line is determined either on a country-by-country basis or through the use of special estimations. Two measures are calculated for this indicator: total part-time employment as a proportion of total employment, sometimes referred to as the “part-time employment rate”; and the percentage of the part-time workforce comprised of women. Table 6 contains information for 91 economies.
There has been rapid growth in part-time work in the past few decades in developed economies. This trend is related to the increase in female labour force participation, but also results from policies attempting to raise labour market flexibility in reaction to changing work organization within industries and to the growth of the services sector. Of concern to policy-makers in the apparent move towards more flexible working arrangements is the risk that such working arrangements may be less economically secure and less stable than full-time employment.1
Part-time employment has been seen as an instrument to increase labour supply. Indeed, as part-time work may offer the chance of a better balance between working life and family responsibilities, and suits workers who prefer shorter working hours and more time for their private life, it may allow more working-age persons to actually take up work. Also, policy-makers have promoted part-time work as a means to redistribute working time in countries of high unemployment, thus lowering politically sensitive unemployment rates without requiring an increase in the total number of hours worked.
Part-time employment, however, is not always a choice. A review of KILM 12, time-related underemployment, confirms that a substantial number of part-timers would prefer to be working full-time. While flexibility may be one advantage of part-time work, disadvantages may exist in comparison with colleagues who work full time. For example, part-time workers may face lower hourly wages, ineligibility for certain social benefits and more restricted career and training prospects. 2 Since the early 1990s, most OECD countries have introduced measures to improve the quality of part-time work, for example with respect to social benefits for part-time workers in line with those of full-time workers.
Looking at part-time employment by sex is useful to see the extent to which the female labour force is more likely to work part time than the male.3 Age breakdowns are also significant and would probably demonstrate that young workers (aged 15 to 24 years) are more likely than adults (25 years and over) to work part time. A suggested virtue of part-time work is that it facilitates the gradual entry of young persons into the labour force and the exit of older workers from the labour market.
There is no official ILO definition of full-time work, largely because it is difficult to arrive at an internationally agreed demarcation point between full-time and part-time given the national variations in what these terms mean. At the 81st Session of the International Labour Conference in 1994, the ILO defined “part-time worker” as “an employed person whose normal hours of work are less than those of comparable full-time workers”.4 Thus, the demarcation point is left to the individual countries to define. Some countries use worker interpretation of their own employment situation for distinguishing full-time versus part-time work; that is, survey respondents are classified according to how they perceive their work contribution. (See, for example, results in table 6 based on the European Labour Force Survey.) Other countries use a cut-off point based on weekly hours usually or actually worked. Dividing lines are typically somewhere between 30 and 40 hours a week. Thus, people who work, say, 35 hours or more per week may be considered “full-time workers”, and those working less than 35 hours “part-time workers”.
The definition of a standard work-week can, and often does, provide a legal or cultural basis for the establishment of starting-points for requirements of employee benefits, such as health care, and overtime premiums for hours worked in excess of the standard week. It should be recognized that what might be thought of as the “standard” work-week for a country could be higher than the official demarcation point for full-time work in a statistical sense. In other words, while a 35- to 40-hour work-week is the probable cut-off standard for full-time work for many industries and workplaces throughout much of the world, national statistical definitions for full-time work are often somewhere between 30 and 37 hours.
In 1997, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) initiated an analysis of part-time work definitions and concluded that a definition of part-time work based on a threshold of 30 hours would better suit the purposes of international comparisons.5 Since then, the OECD has carried out work to harmonize data for its member countries, using a 30-hour cut-off. The OECD harmonized data is used for OECD countries in table 6.
Labour force surveys serve as the source of information on part-time work for nearly all countries included in table 6. Establishment-based surveys, in which information on employees comes directly from payroll records of establishments, are unlikely to provide information on the number of hours that individuals work and thus cannot be used as a reliable source for this indicator.
Another reason that labour force surveys are the preferred source of information for distinguishing between full- and part-time work is that a certain, varying proportion of workers in all countries possesses more than one job. In such cases, accounting for the primary jobs of survey respondents may result in their classification as part-time workers, but adding information on the second (and possibly third) jobs may boost their hours over the full-time mark. In other words, it is the total number of hours that an individual normally works in a week that determines full- or part-time status, not that person’s job per se. Only labour force surveys (and population censuses with fairly extensive questions) can provide information on the total number of hours that individuals work. Nonetheless, many of the countries with information based on labour force surveys still report the number of hours worked on the main job only, thus disregarding the fact that a person may work the equivalent of full-time hours in multiple jobs.6
The table notes include the distinction between “usual” and “actual” hours worked. “Usual hours” indicates that it is the number of hours that people typically work in a survey week that determines their full- or part-time status, rather than the number of hours that they actually work. Usual hours comprise normal working hours as well as overtime or extra time usually worked, whether paid or not. Usual hours do not take into consideration unplanned leave. As an example, a person who usually works 40 hours a week, but who was sick for one day (eight hours) in the survey period, will nevertheless be classified as a full-time worker (for a country with a 35-hour break point for full-time work).
Information on part-time work can be expected to differ markedly across countries, principally because countries use different definitions of full-time work and also because they may have different cultural or workplace norms. The age inclusions for labour force eligibility can also be an important source of variation. Entry ages vary across countries, as do upper age limits. If one country counts everyone over the age of 10 in the survey, while another starts at age 16, the two countries can be expected to have differences in part-time employment rates for this reason alone. Similarly, some countries have no upper age bounds for coverage eligibility, while others draw the line at some point, such as 65 years. Any cut-off linked to age will result in some people being missed among the “employed” counts, with the greater likelihood of those missed being part-time workers since part-time work is particularly prevalent among the older and younger cohorts. Yet another basis for variation stems from the definitions used for “unpaid family workers”. Countries that have no hourly bound for inclusion (one hour or more) or a relatively low bound – for instance, 10 hours per week – can be expected to have more part-time workers than those with higher bounds such as 15 hours.
Use of the OECD data set, discussed in the previous section, while largely of benefit to cross-country comparisons, can also have some negative effects. These will depend on the individual situation for each country included in the set, as countries vary in terms of each of the following: the range of full-time/part-time hour cut-offs; standard work-weeks in general or in particular industries or occupations; individual conceptual frameworks for full- and part-time measurement; and the extent of information available to the OECD for the estimation and adjustment process.7
Although harmonized to the greatest extent possible, part-time measurement still varies according to the usual or actual hours criterion. A criterion based on actual hours will generally yield a part-time rate higher than one based on usual hours, particularly if there are temporary reductions in working time as a result of holiday, illness, etc. Therefore, seasonal effects will play an important role in fluctuations in actual hours worked. In addition, the specification of main job or all jobs may be important. In some countries, the time cut-off is based on hours spent on the main job; in others, on total hours spent on all jobs. Measures may therefore reflect usual or actual hours worked on the main job or usual or actual hours worked on all jobs.
Because of these differences, as well as others that may be specific to a particular country, cross-country comparisons must be made with great care. These caveats notwithstanding, measures of part-time employment can be quite useful for understanding labour market behaviour, more particularly for individual countries but also across countries.
Figure 6a. Part-time employment rate, 2000 and 2009, by developed sub-region*
* The numbers shown above the bars indicate the percentage point change between 2000 and 2009.
** The earlier year for Australia is 2001 and the latter year for the United States is 2008.
Note: The hours cut-off for part-time employment can vary across the countries. Part-time employment in OECD countries is consistently defined as 30 hours per week, with the exception of the United States for which the national definition of 35 hours is used. Most Eastern European countries are derived from EUROSTAT data, in which case part-time employment is self-defined. Readers should refer to the table notes for further details.
AT Austria; AU Australia; BE Belgium; BG Bulgaria; CA Canada; CH Switzerland; CY Cyprus; CZ Czech Republic; DE Germany; DK Denmark; EE Estonia; ES Spain; FI Finland; FR France; GR Greece; HR Croatia; HU Hungary; IE Ireland; IS Iceland; IT Italy; JP Japan; LT Lithuania; LU Luxembourg;LV Latvia; MK the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; MT Malta; NL the Netherlands; NO Norway; NZ New Zealand; PL Poland;PT Portugal; RO Romania; SE Sweden; SL Slovenia; SK Slovakia; UK United Kingdom; US United States.
Part-time employment rates varied significantly among the different regional groupings of developed economies in 2009 (see figure 6a). Part-time employment rates in Northern and Western Europe are generally higher than in Eastern and Southern Europe. The highest rates, those above 20 per cent, can be found almost exclusively in Northern and Western European countries (Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and United Kingdom; the only exception was New Zealand). The lowest rates, on the other hand, below 5 per cent, are all found in Eastern Europe, namely Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. In these countries, and to the extent that women are working, full-time employment for women is regarded more as the norm than in the other countries of the sample. It should be noted that the part-time employment rates for countries that have EUROSTAT as a source (Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania) are based on self-declared part-time employment, rather than on a strict hours cut-off.
Over the last decade, part-time employment rates have increased in three out of every four developed economies with available data. The biggest increases over the period 2000-2009, were in Austria (6.3 percentage points), Germany (4.3 points), Ireland (5.6 points), Luxemburg (4.0 points), Malta (4.8 points), the Netherlands (4.5 points) and Spain (4.2 points). In Ireland and Luxemburg, the increase in part-time employment seems to be crisis induced, with sharp increases seen only between 2007 and 2009. In contrast, in Germany, Malta and the Netherlands, the trends are more gradual, probably reflective of longer-term structural changes. In eight countries, of which half are Eastern European, part-time rates declined over the period.
Figure 6b Female part-time employment rate and share in total part-time employment, selected developed economies, 2009*
* United States, 2008.
For country abbreviations, see note in figure 6a.
Generally, women engage in part-time employment more often than men. Among the selected 40 economies, the female share of part-time employment exceeded 50 per cent in 38 countries (see figure 6b). For most countries in Western Europe, the female share of part-time employment was as high as 80 per cent (except for the Netherlands where the female share was ‘only’ 75 per cent). Romania and Croatia are the only two countries where more men than women engaged in part-time employment. The figure demonstrates a clear positive linear relationship between the female share in part-time employment and the female part-time employment rate; where female part-time employment rates are higher, so is the female share in part-time employment.
Figure 6c. Index of part-time employment (2002=100), by sex and age group, 2002-09
Note: Figures based on aggregates of 37 countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Figure 6c shows the development of the part-time employment rate over time as an index for different age groups: youth (15-24), adults (25+) and total (15+). Even though part-time work is considered mainly the domain of women, men are increasingly working part-time too, and, in fact, part-time employment among men is growing at a faster pace than among women. The impact of the recent economic crisis after 2007 is clearly visible: part-time employment rates of both youth and adults grew substantially. The increase was particularly notable among men.
There are multiple causes for the increase in the part-time employment rate in 2008 and 2009. Firstly, the part-time employment rate has countercyclical properties; some employers adjust the number of working hours of employees downward in response to decreased demand, typically resulting in an increase in the part-time employment during an economic crisis. Workers are also more willing to work part-time, and to be part-time unemployed, during times of crises. The stronger impact of the recent economic crisis on male-dominated sectors such as manufacturing and construction explains in part why the part-time employment rate among men grew at a faster pace. For youth, the female part-time employment rate was consistently higher than the male rate over the period 2002-07; however, as a result of the crisis, the index for both sexes was more or less the same in 2009 (approximately 121, or 21 per cent higher than the rates in 2002). For adults, the growth in male part-time employment exceeded the growth rate for women, amounting to an average annual increase of 3.8 per cent over the period compared to 0.8 per cent for women.
1 For a review of recent trends in working- time arrangements, see J.-Y. Boulin, M. Lallement, J.C. Messenger and F. Michon (eds.): Decent working time: New trends, new issues (Geneva, ILO, 2006) and J.C. Messenger (ed.): Working time and workers’ preferences in industrialized countries: Finding the balance (Routledge, 2004).
3 See Chapter 1, section A, “Gender equality, employment and part-time work in developed economies”.
4. The 81st Session of the International Labour Conference adopted the Part-Time Work Convention (No. 175) and Recommendation (No. 182); texts available at http://www.ilo.org/ilolex/english/convdisp1.htm<.
5. OECD: “The definition of part-time work for the purpose of international comparisons”, in Labour Market and Social Policy, Occasional Paper No. 22 (Paris, 1997).
6. Users will find information on jobs covered – all jobs, main job only, etc. – in the “job coverage” field.
7. Users with a keen interest in these comparisons should examine OECD: “The definition of part-time work for the purpose of international comparisons”, op. cit.