Women’s part-time employment

Part-time employment is an important means of incorporating women into the market in all countries, irrespective of welfare regime.1 Part-time employment is frequently perceived by women as a way of coping with their multiple roles as mothers and workers. Employers also see advantages in women’s part-time employment since it reduces absenteeism and increases their flexibility [Bee87]. Nonetheless, family regimes differ in the prevalence of part-time employment, the type of jobs open to part-time employees, and in the public perception of part-time employment.

In the market-dependence regime, where individuals’ welfare is strongly linked to the labour market, one would expect part-time employment to be less common than in other regime types, as it constrains women’s ability to gain access to the better jobs that provide high earnings and opportunities for career advancement [Bee87] [Sun92]. This is mainly because part-time work is associated with precarious employment and is concentrated in a limited number of occupations and often in dead-end jobs. Furthermore, part-time employment is generally taken as signalling lower commitment to work than full time employment [Kis87]. As a result, women who work part-time are often denied entry to positions of authority and responsibility. We would therefore expect that in countries in which the market-dependence regime prevails there will be ‘positive’ self-selection of women to paid employment and only a minority of women will be in part-time employment. We also expect women in part-time employment to be concentrated in low-paying jobs.

The situation is likely to differ in other regimes. The individual-independence regime is committed to promoting women’s labour force participation. In this framework, part-time employment offers a way of maintaining the continuous involvement of mothers in the labour force. It is assumed that part-time employment during early motherhood is a transitional stage and that women will return to full-time employment. Concomitantly, employment conditions in part-time jobs are expected to be similar to those in full-time employment. This includes employment benefits, union protection, access to good jobs and an easy transition to full-time employment later in life [Sun97]. In this regime type, we therefore expect that part-time employment will be prevalent among women, that such an employment pattern will span a wide range of occupations, and that women in part-time employment will not be disadvantaged compared with women in full-time employment.

Part-time employment is of special significance under the state-dependence regime. It is perceived as being a solution to the incorporation of mothers into the labour force, without altering the gendered division of labour. Since women in these societies are expected to give higher priority to their parental role, part-time employment has a more permanent nature, and it is highly concentrated in female-type, secondary sectors of employment. As a result of state intervention in labour relations and the presence of strong unions, part-time workers enjoy employment benefits and union protection similar to that enjoyed by full time workers. High rates of part-time employment among women, and especially young mothers, are therefore expected in these societies. Lastly, in the family-dependence regime, the part-time employment rate will be low since mothers are not expected to participate in the labour force, and those who have no familial obligations and take part in the paid economy can do so on a full-time basis.

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