I had another afternoon playing with the data.  Following up on last week’s puzzle about full time employment trends Ontario, I decided to take a closer look at part-time workers in Canada.  Having a family unit in mind, I looked at the portion of men and women, married and unmarried, aged 25-54, working part time, and their reasons for doing so, from 1976-2014.  Here’s some interesting points I noticed today:

1. Persistent increases in part-time work were associated with recessions prior to the mid-1990s; the 2008 recession had a smaller effect on men. About 1% of men report working part-time and looking for full-time work.

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2. More people – male, female, married, and unmarried – are reporting that they work part time due to illness or disability.

3. While a declining share of married women are working part time since the late 1990s, an increasing share of married men are working part-time to care for children or other personal or family responsibilities.

Now the details…

The graphs below are all based on the public use Labour Force Survey Files using samples of men and women .  For everyone who is working part-time, the LFS asks them why.  Notice the time series is plotted in two graphs – this is because the LFS changed the question and the response categories in the fall of 1996.

men-married-whyptold men-married-whyptnew

First I look at married men.  Overall the likelihood of seeing men working part-time has increased over time.  Prior to 1996, the large increases in part-time work follow recessions, appears to represent people who would prefer full-time work, and persisted.  After 2008, there’s another slight increase.

The interesting thing in the recent data is the ”˜why’. In the post-1997 period, married men are increasingly working part-time for illness or disability, caring for children, going to school, or just a personal preference to do so.  The unmarried men are quite similar in this regard, though illness or disability, going to school, and preferences are increasingly dominant as reasons for working part-time.

men-single-whyptold men-single-whyptnew

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Unmarried women are generally similar to single men in terms of broad trends and an increasing likelihood of working part-time due to illness or disability and going to school.  However, there has not been an increasing preference for part-time work for single women.

women-single-whyptold women-single-whyptnew

Lastly, and certainly the most interesting in my mind, are the married women.  Early increases in part-time employment showed no clear cyclical pattern, and many reported a preference for working part-time.  Since 1997, the portion of women working part time has declined.  Those reporting they could not find full time work has declined.  The portion working part-time because they preferred to also declined.

women-married-whyptold women-married-whyptnew

But the married women are not moving out of the labour force, they’re moving into full time work.  Certainly the data does not suggest that movement is being matched by men becoming primary care-givers, but there is certainly movement toward sharing that responsibility.


I think a point to take away from all this is a reminder there are two sides to this market we have to consider – those who supply labour and those who demand it.  When we see increases in the portion of people wanting full-time work and having to settle for something part-time, that’s probably a labour demand problem.  When we see people simply wanting more part-time work or moving to part-time to accommodate their family, that’s supply.  It often reflects the time constraints, and possibly liquidity constraints that families face that policy makers should pay attention to, but it isn’t necessarily a problem with the labour market.  The fact that married women are moving away from part-time work while married men are moving into it to care for children tells me the supply-side of the labour market is busy reorganizing itself. While I realize many would disagree, I tend to view such trends for families in a positive light.

A second point to take away is that the increase in part-time work related to disability or illness warrants further attention.  Although the sample is restricted to those aged 25-54, this group is aging with the tail end of the baby boom at the oldest end.  I wonder whether the trend reflects individuals with disabilities moving into the labour force or out of full-time employment.  Another day.

Back to the main puzzle, we still don’t know much more about why so many men are losing full-time employment in Ontario.  To be continued…

Tammy Schirle
Tammy Schirle is an associate professor of economics at Wilfrid Laurier University. She completed her PhD at the University of British Columbia in 2006. She is currently director of the Laurier Centre for Economic Research and Policy Analysis, chairs the Waterloo Region Collaborative Economic Research Group, and is a member of the C.D. Howe Institute Pension Policy Council. As a labour economist and applied econometrician with interests in Canadian public policy, her research has focussed on seniors' work and retirement, women's labour supply, and organization of the family. Twitter @tammyschirle

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