It’s been a while since I’ve made a blog post. And it’s not from a lack of ideas. In some ways it’s been too many. I’ve got a backlog of thoughts from a comparison between state sponsored athletics programs and the growing professionalism in kids sports, to the use of bonuses and incentives at work, to some reviews on netball, music and theatre. Perhaps I’ve had too many thoughts?
Today, I was thinking of chipping away at this backlog and exploring the increase in part-time employment in Australia (those with jobs and work less than 35 hours a week). However as I began to research the matter I increasingly became aware that the discussion about part-time work had strong gender undertones. And this got me thinking why?
Bit of a segue-way, for those interested in the high level facts (according to the RBA):
- about one in three people employed in Australia are done so on a part-time basis (this has increased steadily since the 1960s when it was about 10 per cent)
- over the past few years a large share of new jobs (roughly two in three) have been part-time
- this has been attributed to 1. increase in employment in industries that have a high share of part-time jobs e.g. household services such as health care, food services and education 2. business uncertainty (i.e. don’t commit to full-time staff because you are unsure things are going that well)
Back to why the gender undertones? I think the simple answer is that there is data. We know how many people working part-time are female vs male and we know how many working full-time are female vs male.
Yes there is the logical link that some women go and have a baby and they then come back and work part-time. Some might also say that the industries that are more inclined to part-time work are female orientated (whatever the reason).
However, they do not represent all of the people in part-time jobs. You have a multitude of other people (and this includes women). For example, students that juggle study and work, people with caring for elderly parents, people who lack the English skills or Australian qualifications for a full-time job, and of course people who do it for lifestyle reasons such as work-life balance. For these subsets we do not know how many there are.
Hence, when we talk about part-time work it is an incomplete conversation. Are we talking about a male consultant who 4 days a week because $150,000 is enough and he wants time to spend his income, or are we talking about a single mother of 2 without formal qualifications working 16 hours a week? The way the data is at the moment you could substitute male for female in the above example, they are both part-time. My point here is not to appeal to the bleeding hearts (although yes one situation is obviously more difficult than the other). Rather, my point is to call for more rational debate through better data collection.
Employment is no doubt essential to getting by and improving your lot in life. However, without better labour market statistics we really do not know who is being affected by the changes in the structure of the labour market that we observe.
Some aspects of part-time employment are positive. Some people choose to go part-time and part-time gives business flexibility, which in difficult economic times can limit redundancies. But, part-time can also be detrimental. In some instances business flexibility can be the corollary of job uncertainty, income uncertainty and at its worse it can perpetuate disadvantage. Whether this be gender, race, income, age is not the point.
More so that we would be best to have a better understanding about such an important part of our livelihood. My concern, genuine progress is being hampered by limited data. Some things aren’t worth counting, some are.