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October 2003     Vol. 4, no. 10

Precarious jobs: A new typology of employment

Leah F. Vosko, Nancy Zukewich and Cynthia Cranford

Many Canadians engage in non-standard work—that is, employment situations that differ from the traditional model of a stable, full-time job. Under the standard employment model, a worker has one employer, works full year, full time on the employer's premises, enjoys extensive statutory benefits and entitlements, and expects to be employed indefinitely (ECC 1990; Schellenberg and Clark 1996; Vosko 1997). Work that differs from the standard is described in several different ways, 'non-standard' and 'contingent' being two commonly used terms. Non-standard is used widely in Canada (Krahn 1991, 1995), contingent in the United States (Polivka and Nardone 1989; Polivka 1996). Another approach is to consider dimensions of 'precarious employment' in relation to a typology of total employment (Rodgers 1989; Fudge 1997; Vosko 2000).

Many non-standard jobs may correspond to an employee's life-cycle needs—such as combining part-time work with full-time education, or devoting more time to activities outside the workplace. Indeed, men's and women's differing reasons for part-time work and self-employment illustrate the importance of gender-based note 1  analysis of trends in non-standard work. For example, in 2002, 42% of men compared with 25% of women worked part time because they were attending school, while 15% of women and just 1% of men cited child-care responsibilities. These findings reflect differing care and education trade-offs for men and women (see also Vosko 2002). At the same time, slightly over one-quarter (27%) of part-timers were working part time because of poor business conditions or because they could not find full-time work.

The 2000 Survey of Self-Employment also highlighted differences in self-employment patterns for men and women. Data indicated that 13% of own-account self-employed women cited balance of work and family as the main reason for becoming self-employed, while too few men cited this reason to produce a statistically reliable estimate. Similar to the 'involuntary part-timers,' a quarter of own-account self-employed (26%) became self-employed because they could not find suitable paid employment.

Changes over the long run in the proportion of non-standard jobs may signal changes in broader economic and social conditions. The shift to non-standard work arrangements has also been tagged as signalling casualization—stemming from the use of casual labour to replace permanent full-time workers. The term has come to include most jobs that tend to offer less security than the standard employment relationship with respect to hours, earnings and benefits. One result of casualization is that certain groups of men—those under 25, recent immigrants or visible minorities—are experiencing downward pressure on earnings and conditions of work as they increasingly take jobs in occupations where women have traditionally been employed. This further underscores the relevance of a gender-based analysis of non-standard work.

In the early 1990s, non-standard work grew considerably (Krahn 1991, 1995). That is, there was a substantial increase in the percentage of people who had part-time or temporary jobs, were own-account self-employed in their main job, or held multiple jobs. The standard employment relationship, nevertheless, remained the model upon which labour laws and policies were based.

This article examines recent trends in non-standard work using the General Social Survey and the Labour Force Survey. It first compares the concepts of non-standard, contingent and precarious employment, and then introduces a mutually exclusive typology that highlights some aspects of precarious employment. The results indicate that some forms of such-defined precarious employment have increased marginally over the past decade.

Defining non-standard and contingent employment

Employment insecurity is an essential aspect of the definition of non-standard work (Krahn 1991). The broadest measure of non-standard employment used in Canada comprises four situations that differ from the norm of a full-time, full-year, permanent paid job: part-time employment; note 2  temporary employment, including term or contract, seasonal, casual, temporary agency, and all other jobs with a specific pre-determined end date; note 3  own-account self-employment (a self-employed person with no paid employees); and multiple jobholding (two or more concurrent jobs) (Krahn 1995).

To focus on more specific forms of non-standard employment, a more restrictive definition that includes only part-time work and temporary jobs is used. The rationale for excluding multiple jobholding is that full-time workers holding a second job are not necessarily in an insecure situation, nor are the own-account self-employed since they have an ongoing employment relationship with themselves (Krahn 1991). Some researchers have also included shift work in their definition of non-standard employment in an effort to measure the decline in the 'typical' 9 to 5, Monday to Friday workweek (Sunter 1993; Siroonian 1993; Galarneau 1994).

In the United States, three different definitions of contingent employment have been used, each pivoting on permanency. These definitions include only people employed on a temporary basis. The first definition includes all wage and salary workers note 4  who do not expect their job to last. This corresponds with the Statistics Canada definition of temporary work. The second definition narrows the focus to employment of very limited duration by including only those wage and salary workers who expect to work in their current job for one year or less note 5  and who have worked for their current employer for less than one year. The third definition broadens the second by including self-employed workers who expect to be, or have been, in their current employment situation for one year or less. note 6 

The breadth of the non-standard work concept contrasts with the specificity of the American definitions of contingent work (Figure 1). The broad definition of non-standard employment encompasses the first definition of contingent employment, making temporary work the only element common to both frameworks. The full-time-part-time distinction is not considered in the contingent work concept. However, Krahn's more restrictive definition of non-standard work takes account of both temporary and part-time work.

Recent trends in the prevalence of non-standard employment are tracked through the Labour Force Survey and the General Social Survey (see Data sources). note 7 

In Canada, the proportion of broadly defined non-standard employment grew in the early 1990s but has since stabilized. Between 1989 and 1994, the share of the workforce aged 15 and over engaged in at least one of part-time work, note 8  temporary work, own-account self-employment, or multiple jobholding grew from 28% to 34%. Since then, it has hovered around this level (Chart A). note 9  Non-standard employment narrowly defined as part-time employment or temporary paid work followed the same trend. The pattern was similar for contingent or temporary employment. By 2001, the share of all employed people holding a job with a pre-determined end date had reached 11%, up from 7% in 1989 (Chart B). note 10  Women were more likely than men to engage in non-standard and contingent employment throughout the period.

These data illustrate a shift away from full-time, permanent jobs, mainly during the early 1990s. However, other studies have documented workers' experiences of increasing labour market insecurity (Broad 2000; Vosko 2000; Luxton and Corman 2001).

Although the share of temporary jobs has increased by just one percentage point since 1997, temporary employment has grown faster than permanent employment. Moreover, wage growth for temporary work has not kept up with that for permanent work (Tabi and Langlois 2003). This points to important qualitative differences among the wide range of non-standard employment situations as well as to a growing diversity of employment situations. For instance, the occupation and income profile of temporary help workers is very different from that of the self-employed (Hughes 1999; Vosko 2000). Furthermore, within the self-employed category, considerable differences exist between those who employ others and those who do not (Fudge, Tucker and Vosko 2002).

To better understand the nature and extent of precarious jobs, it is necessary to move away from grouping situations that are united only by their difference from the standard employment relationship. Because the non-standard categories are not mutually exclusive, it is difficult to determine whether certain forms of employment have grown, and if so, how much their growth has contributed to employment insecurity. For example, part-time employment includes both employees and the self-employed (both own-account and employers), and any employed person can be a multiple jobholder. However, only employees can have a temporary job.

European researchers have advanced 'precarious employment' as an alternative to non-standard employment. One approach (Rodgers 1989) identifies four dimensions to establish whether a job is precarious. The first is the degree of certainty of continuing employment, emphasizing both time horizons and risk of job loss. Second is the notion of control over the labour process, linking this dimension to the presence or absence of a trade union and hence control over working conditions, wages and pace of work. The third dimension is the degree of regulatory protection—that is, whether the worker has access to an equivalent level of regulatory protection through union representation or the law. Fourth is the critical element of income. A given job may be secure in the sense that it is stable and long-term but precarious in that the wage may be insufficient to maintain the worker and any dependants.

Toward an analysis of precarious employment

Breaking down the workforce into a typology of mutually exclusive forms of employment is one means of better understanding the heterogeneity inherent in the broad definition of non-standard employment (Figure 2). The first step differentiates employees from the self-employed. This distinction relates to one key dimension of precarious employment: degree of regulatory protection, since many self-employed are excluded from coverage under collective bargaining law and employment standards legislation (Fudge, Tucker and Vosko 2002). The self-employed are further distinguished by whether or not they have employees, since those without employees—the own-account self-employed—are arguably in a more precarious position than self-employed employers (Hughes 1999; Fudge, Tucker and Vosko 2002). The decomposition then addresses the degree of certainty of continuing paid work by categorizing employees by job permanency. The final step breaks down each employment form by part-time and full-time status.

Including part-time/full-time status is also instructive since eligibility for certain policies (for example, Employment Insurance) is hours-based, and hours of work are related to income and the ability to secure an adequate standard of living (Vosko 2003). note 11  Between 2001 and 2002, part-time employment rose by 7.7%, nearly three times the annual growth recorded for full-time employment, while hourly pay for part-time work grew at only half the rate of full-time work (Tabi and Langlois 2003). While part-time work has become more common among both women and men, over the past 25 years women have consistently been much more likely than men to work part time (Statistics Canada 2002). Multiple jobholding is excluded from this mutually exclusive typology. note 12 

Under this typology, the rise in non-standard employment in the early 1990s was fuelled by increases in own-account self-employment and full-time temporary paid work. Although employees with full-time permanent jobs still account for the majority of employment, this kind of work became less common, dropping from 67% in 1989 to 64% in 1994 and 63% in 2002 (Table 1). Self-employment grew in the 1990s, peaking in the latter part of the decade, and falling after 1998. The decline was largely caused by self-employed employers; their share of the employed labour force went from 7% in 1989 to 5% in 2002. In contrast, own-account self-employment went from 7% to 10% of the employed labour force.

The share of the employed labour force with temporary jobs rose slightly in the 1990s. The growth was fuelled by full-time temporary jobs, which rose from 4% of all jobs in 1989 to 7% in 2002.

The general shift away from full-time permanent employment affected women and men differently, even though increases in full-time temporary paid work and own-account self-employment were observed for both sexes. Overall, the absolute decline in full-time permanent jobs was slightly greater for men, but men were still more likely than women to have this standard form of employment in 2002 (66% of employed men versus 59% of employed women).

The percentage of employed men who were own-account self-employed increased while the percentage self-employed employers declined, suggesting that more men were engaging in precarious self-employment. However, for men, most self-employment is full-time, and accordingly less precarious along that dimension.

The widely documented over-representation of women in part-time jobs is true of both employees and the self-employed. In 2002, some 44% of own-account self-employed women worked part time, compared with just 18% of their male counterparts (Table 2). The work of women part-time employees also became more precarious as the share with temporary work grew slightly.

The young are more likely to be in precarious employment than those at the peak of their careers (Table 3). Among working youth, the likelihood of temporary employment grew between 1989 and 2002 while the percentage with full-time permanent jobs declined. note 13  The share of employed women aged 15 to 24 with a full-time permanent job fell from 53% in 1989 to 35% in 2002; for young men, the percentage fell from 58% to 45%. During this period, participation in postsecondary education increased markedly among 15 to 24 year-olds.

The majority of workers in the part-time forms of paid work are women. In 2002, women accounted for over 6 in 10 of those with part-time temporary jobs and for nearly three-quarters of part-time permanent employees (Chart C). In contrast, men accounted for the majority of self-employed employers, own-account workers, and full-time employees, either temporary or permanent. Women made up the majority of casual temporary employees, most of whom work part time, while men dominated seasonal forms of temporary paid work, most of which is full-time. (Chart D).

However, many young men are employed alongside women of all ages in employment situations that are neither full-time nor permanent (Chart E). For example, 16% of part-time permanent employees were men aged 15 to 24, while 22% were young women. Nevertheless, 43% of all part-time permanent workers were women aged 25 to 54, compared with only 8% for men aged 25 to 54. Still, full-time permanent jobs and full-time employer self-employment—situations that are relatively more secure—were dominated by men aged 25 to 54. In 2002, these men accounted for nearly half of all full-time permanent employees and 60% of full-time, self-employed employers. Very few men aged 25 to 54 engaged in any form of part-time employment.

The distribution of different employment forms across broad industry groups is markedly different for men and women (Table 4). In general, men are more likely than women to find full-time paid jobs and self-employment in the goods-producing sector. In 2002, 40% of men with full-time permanent jobs worked in goods-producing industries compared with just 16% of women. The figures were similar for full-time temporary jobs and both forms of full-time self-employment. The largest proportion of men with full-time permanent jobs worked in manufacturing (27%) and the largest proportion with full-time temporary jobs in construction (21%). However, the most common industry of employment for men engaged in either form of self-employment was business services.

In sharp contrast, social services was the most common industry of employment for female employees—34% of part-time temporary jobs, 30% of part-time permanent and full-time temporary jobs, and 28% of full-time permanent jobs were concentrated in this sector. Like men, many own-account self-employed women were employed in business services, while the largest proportion of women self-employed employers worked in 'other consumer services,' a category that includes civic organizations, repair and maintenance services, and other personal services such as laundry, hair care and esthetic services.


Non-standard work, defined as part-time work, temporary work, own-account self-employment, or multiple jobholding grew in the early 1990s but has since stabilized. This does not correspond with studies documenting workers' experiences of increasing insecurity, suggesting that the broad definition of non-standard employment is too heterogeneous to reflect aspects of precarious employment. A mutually exclusive typology of employment forms indicates that the rise in non-standard employment in the early 1990s was fuelled by increases in own-account self-employment and full-time temporary paid work. Although employees with full-time permanent jobs still account for the majority of employment, such work has become less common.

The general shift away from full-time permanent employment has affected women and men differently as evidenced by women's continued over-representation in part-time work and an increased prevalence of the own-account form of self-employment among men. Young men tend to be employed alongside women of all ages in employment situations that are neither full-time nor permanent. The distribution of different employment forms across broad industry groups is also different for women and men. Men are more likely than women to work full time in the goods-producing sector, while social services is the most common industry of employment for all categories of women employees.

This study highlights the differing ways men and women interact with the labour market and how these interactions are changing. Further research that includes immigrant and visible minority status would also improve our understanding of precarious employment by facilitating analyses of men who are experiencing downward pressure and exploring inequalities among groups of women and men (Das Gupta 1996; Cranford 1998; Morissette 1997; PSC 1999; Vosko 2000; Statistics Canada 2003).

Greater attention could also be paid to variations within self-employment. Self-employment is often pointed to as an example of entrepreneurial initiative and innovation in an increasingly competitive, privatized and globalized market as well as a means of securing alternative or 'flexible' work arrangements, especially for women seeking to reconcile the demands of paid employment and family responsibilities (Hughes 1999; Arai 2000; Fudge, Tucker and Vosko 2002; Vosko 2002). However, a gender-based analysis would allow for a fuller understanding of the precariousness experienced by many self-employed workers. Multivariate analysis could also shed light on the relative importance of various dimensions of precarious employment and the effects of their interaction.


Data sources

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) is a monthly household survey and has a sample size of approximately 53,000 households. It provides estimates on the labour force status and demographic characteristics of the civilian non-institutional population 15 years of age and older. The LFS has collected information on the temporary/permanent status of jobs since 1997.

The General Social Survey (GSS) is an annual household survey that gathers data on social trends to monitor changes in the living conditions and well-being of Canadians over time. It also provides immediate information on specific social policy issues. Cycles 4 and 9 of the GSS, collected in 1989 and 1994, were focused on education, work and retirement. These cycles contained questions-essentially the same as those in the current LFS-on the temporary nature of jobs, enabling an examination of changes in the distribution of non-overlapping indicators of precarious employment over a 13-year period.

This research is the product of a community university research alliance on contingent work funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The authors gratefully acknowledge the Council for its generous financial support and John Anderson, Pat Armstrong, Judy Fudge, Kate Laxer and other members of the research alliance for their input on earlier versions of this article.


Speaking of job stability...

The approach presented in Precarious jobs: A new typology of employment to measure the stability or precariousness of jobs can be termed a structural approach. A number of categories that are assumed to be related to less stable job characteristics are defined and then the trends within those categories are explored.

But the characteristics of a job can change over time. Temporary jobs may be used as screening devices to find high-quality, permanent employees. Part-time jobs can morph into full-time jobs. Self-employed contractors may become employees of their clients. Thus, an alternative measure that looks simply at the current duration (or tenure) of jobs may shed a different light on job stability.

Job tenure, however, is very sensitive to cyclical and demographic variations since newly created jobs and young labour market entrants always affect the number of short tenure jobs. But successive cross-sections of job tenure, such as are available from the Labour Force Survey, enable the calculation of the probability that jobs of various tenure will continue for another period (for example, a month or a year). The resultant retention rates control for the cyclical and demographic variation inherent in the tenure distribution.

An examination of retention rates from 1977 to 2001 shows little change in job stability between the beginning and end points; however, a closer look at the data reveals two phases. The period 1977 to 1993 was characterized by declining job stability, particularly for jobs with initial tenure of less than one year. The second phase, 1993 to 2001, saw a reversal of this trend such that by the end of the period jobs of all lengths were equally as stable as in the late 1970s. In all, there was no period-long trend towards declining job stability among any age, sex or education group.

For more information see The evolution of job stability in Canada: Trends and comparisons to U.S. results by Andrew Heisz. Statistics Canada. Analytical Studies Branch. Research Paper Series no. 162. Catalogue no. F0019MIE. 2002.


  1. Sex identifies the biological differences between women and men. Sex is a variable collected on most Statistics Canada surveys, and data are routinely disaggregated by sex. Gender is the culturally specific set of characteristics that identifies the social behaviour of women and men and the relationship between them. Gender, therefore, refers not simply to women and men, but to the relationship between them, and the way it is socially constructed. Because it is a relational term, gender must include women and men. Like concepts of class, race and ethnicity, gender is an analytical tool for understanding social processes. For more information, see Status of Women (1998).
  2. Prior to 1997, part-time employment was defined as less than 30 hours per week at all jobs. Since 1997, it refers to hours at a main job.
  3. With the 1989 GSS, Krahn was able to measure part-year work, defined as a main job that typically lasts nine months or less per year. This question was not asked on the 1994 GSS. However, most employees whose jobs last less than nine months per year, such as seasonal workers, are included in the definition of temporary employment. Only those in self-employment for less than nine months per year would be excluded from the temporary category.
  4. As with the Canadian measure of job permanency, this definition excludes the self-employed.
  5. Although job tenure data are available in Canada, no information is collected on expected tenure beyond the general indicator of permanent or temporary.
  6. It is impossible to produce Canadian estimates of this last measure because Statistics Canada surveys do not ask self-employed workers about job permanency.
  7. In 1999, the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics added a question about job permanency, making this a future source of information about all four employment situations within the broad definition of non-standard work.
  8. The 1989 and 1994 GSS estimates of part-time work have been revised to match the new LFS definitions.
  9. Reported differences are significant at the 0.05 level. Standard deviations are available from the authors.
  10. Most temporary workers in Canada have job tenure of one year or less, and consequently belong to Polivka's more restrictive definition of contingent work. See also Grenon and Chun (1997).
  11. Statistics Canada defines part-time employment as less than 30 hours per week. Access to statutory benefits and other employer-paid benefits do not necessarily correspond to this cut point.
  12. The mutually exclusive typology refers to the characteristics of a person's main or only job. Multiple jobholding is a work arrangement that refers to characteristics of a person's employment situation.
  13. The share of employed youth with temporary jobs doubled between 1989 and 2002. However, the 1989 estimates have high sampling variability and should be used with caution.


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Leah F. Vosko is with York University, Nancy Zukewich with Statistics Canada, and Cynthia Cranford with the University of Toronto. The authors can be reached at (416) 736-2100 (ext. 33157) or

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