Women and Work in B.C. Series: The Part-Time Difference

March 2, 2018
Denise Mullen

This is the third in a series of blogs highlighting the economic imperative of addressing gender equity issues across the full spectrum of market domains and organizational settings. The data are derived from a multi-year research project, which we will publish in April 2018. Update: The report, Women and Work: An Analysis of the Changing British Columbia Labour Market is available here.

Blog 1: Why the Gender Gap Matters
Blog 2: Who's In, Who's Out? The Participation Rate
Blog 3: The Part-Time Difference
Blog 4: Ms. Opportunity: The Link Between Education, Child Care, and Missed Opportunity
Blog 5: Women's Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment
Blog 6: The Rise of the Older Working Woman

Blog 3: The Part-Time Difference

By Denise Mullen and Kristine St-Laurent

In British Columbia, four out of five jobs in 2016 were in the broadly defined services sector. Flash back to 1976 - the oldest available data from Statistics Canada — when two out of every three jobs were in services. Not coincidentally, the rise of part-time work dovetails closely with the growth of the service sector over the last four decades. Indeed, part-time jobs are much more common in the services sector. As it turns out, both areas of work – services, and part-time employment – tend to be female-dominated. This is accentuated by the emerging and rapidly expanding “gig” economy,[1] which mainly features “contingent” jobs. Now, instead of a job for life or a career with one or perhaps two companies, more people have multiple positions or cobble together a career from a collection of part-time or contractual work equivalent to full-time work … usually without the non-wage benefits that accompany more traditional jobs.

Figure 1: B.C. Employment, 1976-2016, Ages 15 and Over, Both Sexes

Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM 282-0087.

A Snapshot of Part-Time Employment Around the World

Statistics Canada and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) both define part-time employment as less than 30 hours per week in a primary job. Part-time includes employer-employee positions as well as self-employment. Among the member countries that belong to the OECD, the average incidence of part-time work for women aged 15 years and older was ~26% in 2016, while among men the average was ~9%. In Nordic countries like Sweden, the gender gap was narrower: ~18% of women held part-time employment compared to 10% for men. In Canada, the share was about 26% for women and 13% for men.

Figure 2: 2016 Part-Time Employment Rates (%) for Women (15 Years +)
(Select OECD Countries)

Source: OECD Part-Time Employment Rate Data.

B.C. Context

The B.C. numbers generally align with the national data. In 2016, 78% of jobs in B.C. were full-time. Core working-age men between 25 to 54 years held 57% of full-time positions, with women holding the other 43%. While a larger share of women work in full-time positions now than was the case in 1976, part-time employment is still dominated by women.

Figure 3: B.C. Employment, Full and Part-Time, By Sex, 1976 Compared to 2016

Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM 282-0087.

Reasons for Working Part-Time

Part-time work is common among women in the labour force, regardless of jurisdiction. Why do more women work part-time? For some, part-time may be a choice. But this is not the full story.

Statistics Canada tracked the main reasons women gave for choosing part-time work in 2016:

Good news story: Consistent with education data, more women cite attendance at school as a reason for part-time employment.
Time and time again, child care is cited as one of the main reasons for choosing part-time work. While rising numbers of men now claim this as a reason for working part-time, women continue to shoulder the larger share of household and family responsibilities. While many women opt for part-time work for this reason, the data does not help us understand for whom this is a voluntary decision. Does part-time work help meet the demands of parenting, or is there just no other option from the viewpoint of the affected workers (i.e. no child care availability in their areas, too costly to work full-time relative to earnings, etc.)?
The reality of family responsibilities (i.e. adult dependents, such as ageing parents) also puts downward pressure on women’s ability to work full-time. Of workers who gave this reason for taking part-time positions, 80% were women.
Like child care and family responsibilities, personal preference doesn’t help us understand if this reflects a true choice or instead is evidence of a lack of suitable employment or family support options. Two other reasons cited for choosing part-time in the Statistics Canada survey are illness and business conditions.

Standing Still: The Part-Time Difference

To be sure, some women opt for part-time employment at certain stages of their lives. Such work is often more flexible and a woman can gain a level of control over her schedule that may not be feasible with full-time positions. On the flipside, part-time work tends to be more precarious and is less likely to include employer-paid benefits. In addition, self-employed contract-to-contract work can result in unpredictable income flows. Some individuals, including many women, who work part-time may find it hard to secure pathways to full-time work and career advancement -- factors that are known to contribute to a persistent gender wage gap.

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