Labour Markets, Institutions and Inequality

Labour Markets, Institutions and Inequality

Building Just Societies in the 21st Century

Edited by Janine Berg

Labour market institutions, including collective bargaining, the regulation of employment contracts and social protection policies, are instrumental for improving the well-being of workers, their families and society. In many countries, these institutions have been eroded, whilst in other countries they do not exist at all.

Chapter 7: The ‘deconstruction’ of part-time work

Jon C. Messenger and Nikhil Ray

Subjects: development studies, development economics, economics and finance, development economics, labour economics, social policy and sociology, labour policy


Part-time work has a complex relationship with inequality, as it can be both a source of discrimination and also a means for integrating certain disadvantaged groups into the labour force. While part-time work can give parents, older workers and youth job opportunities they might not otherwise enjoy, it is also associated with less favourable conditions regarding wages (‘the part-time pay penalty’) and other employment benefits, inferior job security, restricted social security coverage, and more limited career prospects. Part-time work is of growing importance in many countries as a means for otherwise excluded groups to participate in the paid labour force, especially groups such as homemakers, students and retirees. Many authors (e.g., Fagan et al., 2012) highlight the link between part-time work and gender, especially as a means for women to reconcile family responsibilities with paid work, while also underlining how extended periods of part-time work can permanently relegate women to an inferior position in the professional world. In a number of developed countries (e.g., the Netherlands, Sweden), part-time work is encouraged by government policy as a means of access for women who might otherwise not have the opportunity to join the paid labour force (Anxo, 2007; Kjeldstad and Nymoen, 2012). Part-time work is also frequently used as a means for companies to retain older, skilled workers, who might otherwise retire, or to attract and retain workers in difficult jobs, such as nursing (MacPhee and Svendsen Borra, 2012).

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