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posted on 25 October 2015

A Story In Five Charts: Who Works Part-Time?

from the Atlanta Fed

-- this post authored by Lela Somoza and Ellyn Terry

Not all part-time workers are underemployed. As the economic recovery continues to strengthen, policymakers have often pointed to the stubbornly high share of Americans who report working part-time for economic reasons, which many consider to be a key indicator of slack.

It may surprise some, then, that the vast majority of part-time workers voluntarily log fewer than 35 hours per week. Nearly 20 million Americans, about 76 percent of part-time workers, were in this category in July, compared to more than 6 million who would rather work more hours.

So who are these "happy" part-time workers?

Perhaps not surprisingly, the share of people working part-time and their reasons for doing so vary significantly across demographic groups. Part-time employment can give workers more flexibility to deal with family or personal obligations, pursue education or training, or simply keep a toehold in the labor market as they transition into retirement.

To begin, women are much more likely than men to work part-time. About 20 percent of all employed women are voluntary part-time workers, compared with about 9 percent of employed men.

Among women who choose part-time work schedules, the most common reasons for doing so are family obligations and education or training. A sizeable share, just under 20 percent, have occupations for which a full-time work week is fewer than 35 hours (airline pilots, for example)

.

Part-time also varies by age. Young people are the most likely to work work part-time, followed by those over age 55. While the share of young employed persons working part-time has remained relatively stable, the share of older individuals who choose to work part-time has decreased over time.

Nearly a third of 16- to 25-year-old workers choose to put in fewer than 35 hours per week. Their primary reason for doing so is overwhelming related to school and training - not surprising, especially considering the tough labor market conditions facing young adults in recent years.

Part-time work is also more prevalent among older people, but for very different reasons. About 19 percent of those over 56 years old work part-time, mostly commonly because they are partially retired or face Social Security limits on their earnings. The decline over time is mostly because people are staying at their full-time jobs for longer, transitioning to retirement or partial retirement at a later age. For more on this, see the Atlanta Fed's Labor Force Participation Dynamics web page.

About the Authors

photo of Lela Somoza

Lela Somoza - Staff writer for Economy Matters

Ellyn Terry - Economic policy analysis specialist in the Atlanta Fed's research department

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