The ‘Part-time Occupational Penalty’: Lower Quality Jobs For British Women Who Don’t Want To Work Full-time

Royal Economic Society logoIn the latest of a series of interviews from the Royal Economic Society Conference 2007, Romesh Vaitilingam talks to Victoria Prowse about the ‘Part-time Occupational Penalty’ for UK women.

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No matter what qualifications they have or how big their family is, British women face a substantial occupational penalty if they work part-time. That is the central finding of new research by Victoria Prowse, presented to the Royal Economic Society’s 2007 annual conference at the University of Warwick.

This finding is consistent with an inadequate supply of high quality part-time jobs to suitably qualified women, and provides support for the introduction of incentives for the firms to increase the number of part-time jobs in skilled occupations.

The study also finds that women with children who enter the labour market have higher occupational attainment, and experience a smaller occupational penalty, than childless women. Thus, there is no evidence whatsoever of women with children (the majority of whom work part-time) being any less career-focused than women without children.

It is well known that part-time jobs in the UK are concentrated in poorly paid, low skilled occupations such as catering and retail. This study estimates that between 1974 and 2000, an average of 76% of women in full-time jobs were working in non-manual occupations while on average only 56% of women in part-time jobs were working in non-manual occupations.

The study draws on data from the National Child Development Survey in order to build up a picture of the employment choices and occupational attainment of British women between 1974 and 2000. It finds that:

  • Holding a university degree reduces, but does not eliminate, the part-time occupational penalty.
  • Women with children who enter the labour market have higher occupational attainment, and experience a smaller occupational penalty, than childless women.
  • But irrespective of qualifications or family size, all women experience a significant part-time occupational penalty.

A university degree reduces the occupational penalty suffered by women in part-time work: among women aged 24 with no qualifications, those in full-time work are 27 percentage points more likely than part-timers to be working in a non-manual occupation.

In contrast, among women holding university degrees, those in full-time work are only 18 percentage points more likely to hold a job in a non-manual occupation. Therefore, although highly qualified part-timers suffer a substantial part-time occupational penalty, it is far less than that suffered by women with lower levels of qualifications.

The presence of children in a woman’s household also has implications for her occupational attainment. Women with children are more selective in terms of the quality of jobs that they are willing to accept than childless women: conditional on being in either full- or part-time employment, women with children are on average 10 percentage points more likely than childless women to be employed in non-manual occupations.

Thus, there is no evidence whatsoever of women with children being any less career-focused than women without children. Interestingly, this selectivity effect is greater for women in part-time jobs than those in full-time jobs. So the low occupational attainment of women in part-time work cannot be attributed to low occupational ambitions among women with children, the majority of whom work part-time.

Despite variation in the part-time occupational penalty across women with different levels of education and with different family sizes, all women experience a substantial part-time occupation penalty: after controlling for differences in individual characteristics, women in part-time work are on average 14 percentage points less likely than full-time workers to employed in non-manual occupations.

This finding is consistent both with the presence of a constraint on the supply of high quality part-time jobs and with women in part-time employment having a strong preference for jobs in low occupations. To the extent that there is a constraint on the supply of high quality part-time jobs to suitably qualified women, there are grounds for policy interventions aiming to equalise the occupational opportunities of women in full- and part-time employment.

Notes for editors: Part-time Work and Occupational Attainment Among a Cohort of British Women by Victoria Prowse was presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2007 annual conference at the University of Warwick, 11-13 April.

Victoria Prowse is at the University of Oxford.

For further information: contact Romesh Vaitilingam on 07768-661095 (email: romesh@compuserve.com).

Find more papers by Victoria Prowse at EconPapers and search for more Internet resources on the issues of women and employment and the labour force and market at Intute: Economics.

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