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Dual tracks: part-time work in life-cycle employment for British women


Forty percent of working women in the UK work part-time; does part-time work support a woman’s labour market career or frustrate it? Cohort data on women’s labour market involvement to age 42 show highly varied pathways through full-time/part-time/non-employment. Part-time work can be part of two different pathways in women’s labour supply for persistent workers and marginal workers. A history of full-time work, even including part-time or non-employment spells, tends to lead back to full-time work, indicating that part-time work supports a career. However, part-time work combined with non-employment is a trap against the resumption of full-time work.

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  1. This is further confirmed in an analysis of 11 EU countries based on the European Community Household Panel 1994–1999 by Buddelmeyer et al. (2005). They report ‘Some evidence of part-time work as a stepping-stone from inactivity into full-time employment is revealed, but the proportion of individuals affected is tiny’.

  2. Discussion and use of the derived work histories features in Narendranathan and Elias (1993) and Gregg (2001).

  3. Joshi et al. (1996) report a cross-sectional analysis of employment patterns after childbearing using the NCDS for 1991, which pays particular regard to employment continuity around the time of the birth.

  4. Although there is panel attrition, the effects are limited as attempts are made at each sweep to contact the entire original birth cohort, and for the sweeps in 1965, 1969 and 1974, the cohort was augmented with immigrants born in the same week.

  5. In a dynamic programming context, the infinite horizon approximates a finite horizon except for individuals approaching retirement. As the women in our sample have a maximum age of 42, retirement can be disregarded. Alternatively, the rate of time preference may be defined to capture the probability of retirement in each period.

  6. Some recall information on partner’s earnings is given in the survey but is incomplete and of poor quality.

  7. This model is estimated using LIMDEP NLOGIT v3, which gives the results as two equations and without an estimate of the selection coefficient.

  8. Joshi et al. (1996), who include the single attitudinal variable ‘a woman can get ahead as easily as a man if she tries’ in their cross-sectional analysis of employment patterns using the NCDS at age 33 get a similarly modest result.

  9. This insight confirms the usefulness of the detailed work histories over the more conventional dynamic panel approach. These, and further alternative estimation approaches, are reported in an earlier version (Connolly and Gregory 2007).

  10. Only 113 spells of part-time employment started before age 23, most at age 21 or 22. Dropping these left-censored spells rather than extending them back to the start of the spell give results almost identical to those in Table 5.

  11. Similar evidence of the part-time/non-employment cycle is found by Giannelli (1996) for German married women, with non-employment the most frequent exit state from part-time work and part-time work the most frequent exit state from non-employment. She also finds that non-employment is the most likely exit state from a short spell of part-time employment (<24 months) but once women have been in part-time employment for longer spells, they are more likely to exit into full-time employment. Her sample, however, contains women up to the age of 55, capturing transitions after the childcare years. Giannelli’s analysis does not control for the employment state prior to the part-time spell.


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The authors are grateful to The Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education, for the use of these data and to the UK Data Archive for making them available. They, however, bear no responsibility for the analysis or interpretation of these data. The editor and two anonymous referees provided helpful comments which contributed to the development of this paper.

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Correspondence to Sara Connolly.

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Responsible editor: James Albrecht



Means and standard deviations of variables

Table 6

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Connolly, S., Gregory, M. Dual tracks: part-time work in life-cycle employment for British women. J Popul Econ 23, 907–931 (2010).

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  • Part-time work
  • Female labour supply
  • Life-cycle

JEL Classification

  • J16
  • J22
  • J62