One in ten part timers earn over £40k a year, screamed a number of headlines last week. They don’t, of course, because that is a pro-rata figure. The Telegraph, at least, clarified this in its opening paragraph. Others, like the Metro, didn’t bother. Neither did the Independent, which should know better.
What the survey by Timewise actually found was that 10 percent of part-timers are on an hourly rate which would be equivalent to £40k a year if they were working full-time. The upper decile gross annual pay for part-timers is £21,394 (See ONS Table 17a) so this sounds about right. It doesn’t have quite the same ring though does it?
Has this killed the ‘underemployment argument dead’ as Kevin Green, Chief Executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, claimed?
— Kevin Green (@kevingreenrec) June 14, 2012
Not really. Just because some part-timers are earning a good hourly rate, it doesn’t mean that part-timers in general are happy with their lot. According to yesterday’s ONS figures, around 18 percent of people in part-time jobs would prefer to work full-time hours. That may even include some people on the high hourly rates.
A few highly skilled and well-connected people have been earning top rates through part-time work for a number of years. This data, from a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, shows that part-time professionals earn, on average, higher hourly rates than their full-time peers.
Some occupations lend themselves to highly paid advisory work which can be done on a part-time basis. Lawyers, accountants, management consultants and doctors often pick up this kind of work. Contrast this with the data for senior managerial roles. It’s much harder to work part-time when you are in change of running something. There weren’t enough part-time male managers to provide a sample size for the ONS report.
In all other occupation groups, part-time workers earn less per hour than their full time peers. Often, considerably less.
My guess is that many of these part-time professionals also have other sources of income; perhaps a combination of part-time jobs, academic posts, consultancy work and the odd non-exec directorship. These arrangements are often referred to as portfolio careers.
The other finding in the Timewise survey was that those holding senior level part-time roles didn’t like describing themselves as part-time; they preferred terms like ‘working flexibly’.
“When does a part-time job become a portfolio career?” asked the Guardian’s Jane Martinson, while pointing out that, despite the £40k headline, part-time jobs tend to be poorly paid.
The answer is simple. When you have enough highly marketable skills, good social support networks, affordable child-care and, crucially, powerful and well-placed contacts to make the flexible labour market work for you. The higher up the social hierarchy you are, the more likely you are to have a portfolio career and the less likely you are to be scratching around for as many hours as you can get. Highly paid part-time work is still the preserve of the relatively fortunate few.
It’s another of Bernard’s famous irregular verbs:
I have a portfolio career. You work flexibly. He or (usually) She is a part-timer.
Hat Tip: Michael Carty for the link to the ASHE part-time pay data.