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May 2020
Skills and Earnings in the Part-Time Labor Market
Neeta Fogg, Paul Harrington, Ishwar Khatiwada and Larry Hanover

Skills Offer Substantial Payoff to Part-Time Workers

The stereotypical part-time job requires few skills and comes with lower pay than full-time work. But a look at the data reveals how misleading the stereotype can be.

A policy report by researchers from Drexel University's Center for Labor Markets and Policy, and Educational Testing Service's Center for Research on Human Capital and Education, finds that, on average, there is a substantial payoff in hourly wages for part-time workers with stronger literacy and numeracy skills, even after accounting for level of educational attainment and work experience.

Health/Education Professions: Equal Pay, Accommodating for Women

It is true, the authors also find, that part-time workers tend to face an hourly wage penalty compared to full-time counterparts. But the report shows there are substantial exceptions, especially in the health and education professions. Workers in those fields tend not to face any wage penalty for working part time. In contrast, those in the other professional fields face a penalty of more than 40 percent in average hourly pay. Findings are based on U.S. data from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) from 2012–2014.

A key to this difference is that the duties of health and education professionals, such as nurses and teachers, do not require the same worker to complete each task from start to finish; duties can be handed over to another worker with minimal disruption. That handoff is possible, in part, because full- and part-time workers have similar literacy and numeracy skill proficiencies on average.

As a result, employers tend to be willing to offer equal hourly pay ($24 an hour on average), with the advantage of scheduling flexibility. These occupations are very accommodating for women, who are more likely to seek flexible work schedules for reasons such as caring for children. Three out of every four health and education professionals are female.

This graph compares mean numeracy scores on the PIAAC scale. Both part- and full-time workers in health/education had mean scores of 277, but part-time workers in all other professions had scores of 270 compared to 289 for full-time workers. This graph compares mean hourly wages. Part timers in health/education earn $23.65 an hour, while full timers earn $24.15. Part timers in all other professions earn $18.65 an hour, compared to $31.97 for full timers.
Workers in health/education professions are 77% female and 23 percent male. Those in all other professions are 38 percent female and 62 percent male.

MAJOR DIFFERENCES IN SKILLS AND WAGES: Professional part-time workers in health/education fields have similar numeracy (and literacy) proficiency scores as full timers, and also have similar wages. In contrast, part-time workers in all other professions have far weaker skills and earn 40% less than full-time counterparts, according to survey data from PIAAC.

Differing Skills, Wage Penalty in Other Professions

In other professional jobs, however, such as those of lawyers or accountants, work cannot be handed over as easily and schedules tend to be more inflexible. Women are less represented in these fields (38 percent). Furthermore, skills of part-time workers tend to be significantly lower than those of full-timers.

These factors are reflected in hourly pay. Part-time workers in other professions earn less on average than full-time counterparts ($18.65 an hour vs. $32 for full time).

Skills and Earnings in the Part-Time Labor Market



Neeta Fogg, Paul Harrington, Ishwar Khatiwada, and Larry Hanover

Publication Date

May 2020

The ETS Center for Research on Human Capital and Education

The Center produces high-quality, evidence-based research that explores critical issues impacting opportunity in America today.

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