Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Women's Part-Time Employment: A Gross Flows Analysis

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Women's Part-Time Employment: A Gross Flows Analysis

Article excerpt

A decline in women's part-time employment since the early 1980's is due chiefly to women having become more likely to move from part-time to full-time employment and less likely to leave full-time employment once they get there

Over 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, masks a significant decline in the rate during the late 1970's and a fall off 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 a marked decline in the rate of part-time employment among women, set against only moderate increases in the rate among men. (See chart 1.) 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-skilled jobs possibly being in response to a growing low-skilled labor force.

The prevailing view of the sources of growth of part-time employment during the past three decades is that supply was likely more important through the 1960's and demand through the 1970's.(14) But what explains the decline since 1980? True enough, the teenage and older populations have waned as a proportion of the labor force, but the share of women has continued to grow (albeit at a diminishing rate). Also, it is difficult to argue that firms have become less concerned about decreasing costs over the past decade. Likely explanations include a slowing of the transition toward industries and occupations with technologies that lend themselves to part-time work and an increased preference for full-time employment among women.

This article attempts to shed some light on the matter through an examination of gender differences in the levels of and trends in part-time employment in a dynamic context. In particular, it focuses on the transitions, or flows, among the labor market states of full-time employment, part-time employment, unemployment, and nonparticipation; the part-time employment rate at a point in time is a function of these flows. This approach has been used extensively in analyses of variations in unemployment and labor force participation rates. …

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