The long and the short of it: differentiating part-timers

I went yesterday to the launch of an important new book, Unequal Britain at Work.  Using surveys that go back about 20 years and more it documents changes in the way we work and how it is rewarded:  not just how we are paid, but  the quality of the job, measured in terms of intensity, discretion and so on.

A crucial feature of the book, and of the presentations made by its editors, Francis Green, Alan Felstead and Duncan Gallie, is the attention it pays to groups usually considered marginal, especially  part-timers and the self-employed.  One of the overall conclusions is that there has been a fair degree of convergence on non-pay issues (in striking contrast to the rising inequality of pay overall).  Some groups have  done better on some aspects, others on other aspects.   There is no overall cumulation of disadvantage,  but a mixed picture for most groups of progress in some areas but retreat in others .   So it goes against the idea that there is a growing ‘precariat’, in the UK at least; or rather, it means that the precariat is smaller, but those who are in it are more intensely disadvantaged.

The chapters on gender, by Joanne Lindley, and on part-time working, by Tracey Warren and Clare Lyonette, are particularly relevant for the Paula Principle.   The latter makes a particular advance by distinguishing between part-timers who work 20-29 hours and those who work under 20 hours.  Any dividing line is arbitrary, but this is a big improvement on lumping all part-timers together.

Warren and Lyonette show that the ‘long pt’ category has been growing, so that over half of all part-timers are now working more than 20 hours.  These are now quite likely to be working in higher level positions – by 2012 36% of them were in such jobs.  They were very likely to report themselves as working very hard, though not quite as likely as women working full-time.  This is especially true for women graduates.

Women part-timers still work in jobs which require fewer educational qualifications than full-timers.  But this gap has been shrinking.  The gap between the two (measured by a standard score) has gone down from 51%  in 1986 to 22% in 2012.    On the other hand, more part-timers are working below their potential, i.e. they hold higher qualifications than the job they are working in requires.   41% of all part-timers were underemployed;  this figure rises to almost half of all those working short hours.

In other word:  part-timers are increasingly well-qualified but underemployed.  And although ‘short’ part-timers are less well qualified than long part-timers or those working full-time, they are still more likely be working under their potential.  Further  confirmation of the PP, as if we needed it.

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