Accueil » 45-3 ( 1990) » Le travail à temps partiel: Vers une polarisation de plus en plus nette

Le travail à temps partiel: Vers une polarisation de plus en plus nette

Simon Langlois


Le travail à temps partiel a connu une croissance marquée durant les années 1980. Si ce régime d'emploi reste très répandu chez les jeunes et les personnes autour de l'âge de la retraite, il est en forte croissance chez les 25-44 ans. La féminisation du travail à temps partiel s'est encore accrue et ce régime d'emploi apparaît de plus en plus comme non volontaire. On observe l'avènement d'une nette polarisation. D'un côté, le travail à temps partiel est une forme d'emploi précaire imposée par les mutations du marché du travail. De l'autre, il est recherché comme tel en tant que réponse à des changements dans les façons de vivre des individus, pour qui le travail n 'occupe pas une place centrale dans leur vie. L'emploi à temps partiel est alors pour les uns forme de travail précaire et pour les autres une façon originale de concilier le travail avec la poursuite d'autres activités. La polarisation de l'emploi à temps partiel résulte de la rencontre entre deux types de transformations sociales: celles qui affectent les entreprises et le marché du travail et celles qui marquent les modes de vie et les préférences des individus.


One of the most important changes which affected the labour market during the 1980s was undoubtedly the rise of part-time work. In less than 15 years the percentage of part-time workers has doubled, ranging from 7,1 % in 1975 to 13,5% in 1989. This change is most remarkable among workers aged 25 or less. Since 1985, about 30 % of these work part-time, compared to 11,9 %in 1975. A growing number of full-time students also have a part-time job which, as a result, increases the percentage of young workers and consequently, the proportion of part-time work in this age group. This proportion is also significantly higher in the 65 year old and over age bracket. In short, part-time work is one way of entering and leaving the labour market which allows the combination of professional activity with others such as studies and retirement.

The majority of part-time jobs are occupied by women and the percentage of female workers in this type of employment has grown consistently between 1975 (66,5 %)and 1989 (71 %). Children do not constitute the main reason why part-time work is more popular among women. Women with no dependent children (those who have reached the middle or the end of their working life), students and women living alone are more likely to go for this type of employment.

Part-time work is less and less a free choice. The reason why this type of employment has become so important is clearly because a growing number of people have been compelled to do so. The percentage of involuntary part-time work in the province of Quebec has gone from about 17 %in 1975 to more than 30 %in 1989, with a peak of more than 40 %among men in the mid 80s. Preference for part-time work is higher among older people (55 and over) and has had a tendency to grow during the last 10 years. The compelling or involuntary aspect is also gaining ground among young workers. On the other hand, there has been a significant change in behavior and preferences among women, as concerns part-time work. Until recently, a large percentage suggested they worked part-time voluntarily since they needed time to look after the children and the family. However, the number of women using such an argument is now declining.

There seems to be a growing polarization of part-time work. It seems to be closely associated to two particular groups of workers with diverging characteristics and preferences. The first one is made up of youths, women with no more dependent children and old people; this group also counts a certain number of women with young children who see this type of employment as a way to reconcile working life with other activities. The second group is quite different: part-time work appears here as a constraint, a kind of precarious work not wanted as such. Most often, these people are looking for full-time jobs but must content themselves with part-time work. These two groups are now represented in almost equal proportion within this fraction of active population most susceptible to work full-time, that is the 25-54 year old group.

This polarization is the result of a meeting between two important social transformations: those affecting firms and labour market and those influencing people's way of living and preferences. The significant increase in the amount of part-time jobs during the last few years indicates a noticeable change in recruiting practices, as far as firms are concerned. Employment growth has been more obvious in the sector of commercial and personnel services, retall trade and very small firms. This promoted the expansion of part-time work since these firms less often resort to a stable and permanent labour force working on a full-time basis. However, the popularity of part-time work also corresponds with some changes in the way of living of people for whom employment has not yet become or is no more a central issue. This type of employment is thus considered as a concomitant of other activities such as studies, leisure, care of children or retirement.