Soc Pol-2011-Fagan-269-99

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    Individual Working-timeAdjustments between Full-timeand Part-time Working inEuropean Firms


    We draw on Sens capabilities approach to advance the debateabout choice and constraint in relation to part-time work. Weargue that it is important to go beyond a state-level comparisonand focus on the policy implemented by employers at the organiza-tional level. We use a European survey to identify which employerspermit their employees to make individual-level adjustmentsbetween full-time and part-time working, and the firm-level char-acteristics associated with operating such a policy. The analysisreveals that employer policy varies markedly across countries andwithin countries and we argue that this is an important social con-version factor which shapes the capability which an individualemployee has to adjust their hours between full time and part timeat their place of work. State policy clearly matters, but firm-levelcharacteristics and other situational features also impact on thesocial conversion factors which shape an individuals working-time capability. The sector, establishment size, presence of a tradeunion, gender and skill composition of the workforce all had a

    Summer 2011 Pages 269299 doi:10.1093/sp/jxr011# The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions,please e-mail:

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  • significant influence on whether employers permitted individual-level working-time adjustments. The firms organizationalworking-time practices and culture toward safeguarding worklifebalance had an additional and independent effect, as did broaderaspects of working-time scheduling in place.


    The expansion of part-time work has been one of the keyworking-time developments in many European labor markets. Inthis article, we aim to advance the theoretical debate and policyagenda concerning part-time work by drawing on Sens (1999) capa-bilities approach, which Lee and McCann (2006) have applied intheir discussion of working time capability. We focus our analysisat the level of the organization and use a European survey to identifywhich employers have a policy which permits employees to makeindividual-level adjustments between full-time and part-timeworking, and what firm-level characteristics are associated withoperating such a policy.

    Part-time employment is still largely a preserve of women, and inthe next section of this paper we argue that the working-time capa-bility framework provides a useful means of advancing the debateabout choice and constraint played out in womens working-timearrangements. We argue that it is important to go further than astate-level comparison and focus on the policy implemented at theorganizational level by employers. The research questions andEuropean survey data set are explained in Research Questions andData. In European Employers Policies on IndividualWorking-time Adjustments, the employers policies on individualworking-time adjustments in the European countries in the study aredescribed, and Which Type of Individual Working-timeAdjustment Policy Is Operated by Which Employers? develops theanalysis to explore which type of adjustment policy is operated byemployers in which types of firms. The last section concludes.

    Part-time Work in European Countries

    The majority of part-time workers are women, and this stemsfrom gender inequalities in family roles. Part-time employment pro-vides one means of reconciling employment with the time-demandsof care responsibilities. The rate of part-time working for men hasbeen rising but the pattern of engagement remains gendered: malepart-time employment is concentrated among students and older

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  • workers approaching retirement, and is rare during the coreworking years.

    One of the points of debate in the vast literature on part-timework is whether its expansion is a positive or negative developmentfor women. In the individualized choice camp are those who con-sider the gendered pattern of part-time employment to be largelyunproblematic. Here are the neo-classical economists who contendthat the decision to work part-time is a labor market choice whichtakes into account individual human capital and time-use preferen-ces, often within a household decision-making process where thegendered division of labor is presented as a rational and efficientform of specialization (Becker 1981). In support of this interpreta-tion, attention is drawn to the regular empirical finding that propor-tionately fewer women than men report that their part-time work isinvoluntary due to being unable to secure a full-time job. A similarexplanatory emphasis on individual choice is made in Hakims(2000) sociological preference theory: in modern liberal societieswomen are able to choose between a family-oriented or career-oriented lifestyle and if family-oriented, they are more likely tochoose part-time employment or labor market exits rather than afull-time continuous employment trajectory.

    The constrained choice camp develops a more structural accountof why women engage in part-time employment, influenced interalia by feminist perspectives on gender relations and labor marketsegmentation theory (see for example, Duncan 2006; McRae 2003;OReilly and Fagan 1998; Perrons et al. 2006). Within this approachthere is more emphasis on the constrained nature of womenschoices and the poor quality of many of the part-time jobs on offer:part-time work is chosen in a context where workfamily reconcilia-tion options are limited by gender inequalities within the family andshortfalls in public care services. Furthermore, questions aboutworking-time preferences reveal a more nuanced picture than identi-fying voluntary and involuntary part-timers: in industrialized coun-tries sizable proportions of women employed part-time want towork longer part-time hours or to switch to full-time arrangements(Fagan 2004).

    There is less contention about the quality of part-time jobs thanthe reasons why women work part-time. Part-time jobs are dispro-portionately concentrated in the lower-skilled, low-paid parts of theeconomy. Where part-time employment exists in higher status jobs itis concentrated in the lower career grades of feminized professions(Birchell et al. 2007; Blossfeld and Hakim 1997; OReilly and Fagan1998). Thus, in its current form, part-time employment for womentends to fuel gender segregated employment patterns and the gender

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  • wage gap (Plantenga and Remery 2010; Rubery 2005; Smith 2005).Women who work part-time rather than full-time are frequentlypenalized for making this decision: some in terms of downwardmobility into a poorer quality job with lower rates of pay and othersby becoming stuck at lower career grades because full-time workingis expected at higher grades (e.g., Crompton and Birkelund 2000).This penalty is more severe in some countries than others. Forexample in the UK, the average hourly pay of part-timers is substan-tially lower than that for full-timers, but this is not the case in theNetherlands. Furthermore, in the UK a period of part-time work hasa negative impact on the subsequent trajectory of employment andearnings progressiona so-called scarring effecteven for thosewho have subsequently moved into full-time employment(Francesconi and Gosling 2005).

    Both strands of the debate are reflected in the EuropeanCommissions employment policy initiated by the Lisbon Summit.Part-time work is promoted as a workfamily reconciliationmeasure and means of integrating more women into employment tomeet the female employment rate target while also being an inputfor innovation in work organization and production systems (CEC2003, European Commission 2004). Yet in resonance with the con-strained choice perspective there is also mention of the need toimprove the quality of part-time work by diversifying the range ofjobs in which it is available, increasing childcare in order to widenreconciliation options and integrating part-time work into socialprotection arrangements via the policy focus on promoting flexi-curity (CEC 2006, 2007). This policy approach to part-timeemployment is retained in the recently launched and refocusedEurope 2020 employment strategy and associated guidelines(Council of the European Union 2010; European Commission2010). This is in tune with the growing awareness of the need for alife course perspective in policy design and employment analysis sothat the organization of employment and social protection systemsrecognizes and supports transitions between nonemployment, part-time and full-time working at different stages across the working lifeto accommodate caring responsibilities, periods of further educationand training as part of the promotion of the lifelong learningagenda, and a more gradual and later transition to retirement inorder to contribute to a reformed financing of pension systems(Anxo et al. 2007a, 2007b; OReilly et al. 2000; Schmid 2008).

    A working-time capability framework (Lee and McCann 2006)helps advance the debate about choice and constraint because itfocuses on analyzing the feasible options from which an individualcan select when determining their working-time arrangements: what

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