Highlights Highlights Main menu Editor's corner More news Contact us Survey information Back issues Statistics Canada home page In depth Français
Statistics Canada logo


system menu - text links at bottom of page
mast-head for "Perspectives on Labour and Income"
sub-heading "The online edition"

November 2001     Vol. 2, no. 11

Archived Content

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.

Trends in part-time job search

Berouk Terefe

Part-time workers have garnered considerable interest over the years. Are they increasing as a proportion of the labour force? Do they work part time by choice? Do they receive fewer benefits than full-timers? Perhaps not surprisingly, the focus has been almost exclusively on people who are employed. The Labour Force Survey (LFS) does, however, ask the unemployed whether they are looking for full- or part-time work. Are the trends and characteristics of the two groups different? This paper explores these issues.

The first part of the paper discusses trends in unemployed job seekers of full- and part-time work between 1976 and 1996, and between 1997 and 2000. The second part isolates the contribution of demographic factors (such as the increased participation of women in the labour force and the aging of the labour force) and trend (all other factors) to changes in the overall part-time share between 1976 and 1996 (to exclude the effect of the 1997 LFS redesign). The third part looks at the demographic characteristics of the two groups of unemployed job seekers in 2000.

The unemployed labour force consists of two main groups: a very large job-seeking component, and a much smaller non-job-seeking group. The job-seeking group splits into two sub-components: those looking for full-time work (30 hours or more per week), and those looking for part-time work (less than 30 hours). The non-job-seeking unemployed group also consists of two sub-groups: persons on temporary layoff, and those starting a job in the next few weeks (often referred to as future starts) (see Labour force status, 2000).

Trends in full- and part-time job seeking

The number of unemployed increased by 95% (from 738,200 to 1,436,900) between 1976 and 1996. Even though a larger numerical increase was recorded for full-time job seekers (531,200), part-time job seekers had a higher percentage increase (146% versus 96%). The number of unemployed men seeking full-time work increased by 96%, as did the number of women. In contrast, the number of unemployed men seeking part-time work increased by 188% while the corresponding rise for women was 124%.

In line with the business cycle, the share for full-time job seekers fluctuated between 75.0% and 81.7% from 1976 to 1996 (Chart A). The level in 1996 (75.5%) was virtually the same as in 1976 (Table 1). On the other hand, the part-time job seekers' share showed a slight but steady upward trend between 1976 and 1996, from 11.7% to 14.8%.

Between 1996 and 1997, the number of full-time job seekers fell from 1,084,800 to 1,012,400 and their share declined sharply (from 75.5% to 73.4%). In contrast, the number of part-time job seekers rose from 212,400 to 238,600 (all of the increase occurring among women) and their share jumped from 14.8% to 17.3% (Chart B). note 1 

Between 1997 and 2000, the numbers of both full- and part-time job seekers registered steady declines—to 756,900 and 206,600 respectively—as could be expected in good economic times. However, their shares diverged—full-time job seekers dropping to 69.5%, part-time climbing to 19.0%. These changes in shares could be attributed mainly to revisions to the LFS questionnaire in 1997 (see The 1997 LFS questionnaire redesign).

Factors affecting part-time job seeking

Because of the break in time series caused by the 1997 Labour Force Survey redesign, this section focuses on 1976 to 1996. The change in the share of part-time job seekers between 1976 and 1996 (3.1 percentage points) was decomposed to isolate the contributions resulting from changes in demographic composition (sex and age), and from trend (see Decomposition formula).

The rise in part-time jobs sought between 1976 and 1996 was due almost entirely to trend. The contribution of the trend was 99% (3.06 percentage points), while only 1% (0.02 points) of the rise was due to demographic shifts (Table 2). Almost all of the trend contribution came from 15 to 24 year-olds.

Characteristics of job seekers

In 2000, of the 1,089,600 people who were unemployed, 69% were looking for a full-time job while 19% were looking for a part-time job. note 2  The rest were on temporary layoff (7%) or waiting to start a job in the near future (5%). More than 58% of those seeking full-time work were men, while 60% of those seeking part-time jobs were women (Table 3).

More men than women were seeking full-time jobs, by a ratio of 1.4 to 1. Most of these people were aged 25 to 54, and 55% of both men and women had no more than high-school equivalent education (compared with about 80% for the 15-to-24 year olds). Single men made up the largest proportion (48%) of full-time job-seeking men, while among women, most (55%) were married.

Part-time job seekers, on the other hand, were mostly women, by a ratio of 1.5 to 1. Most were between 15 and 24, with high-school equivalent or less education, and single with no children. Women also accounted for 91% of part-time job seekers aged 25 to 54 with children under 16 at home.

Employed part-time workers are a very heterogeneous group (Blank, 1994). Most women use part-time work as a temporary alternative to full-time work or to being out of the labour market; few women use it as a transition to full-time employment. Also, women with younger children, more children, or higher levels of other sources of income are more likely to work part time. note 3  The current study indicates, however, that only 25% of part-time job-seeking women have younger children at home; of these women, 13% had preschool-aged children and 12% had children aged 5 to 12.


Over the last 25 years, the proportion of people seeking part-time work has increased steadily. The rise in the share of part-time job seekers in 1997 was significantly large—mainly because of revisions of ambiguous wording in the Labour Force Survey questionnaire.

Between 1976 and 1996, the increase in the share of part-time job seekers among the unemployed can be attributed almost entirely to trend, rather than to any demographic shifts. In 2000, part-time jobs were sought mainly by women aged 15 to 24. Most were single with no children, and had no more than a high-school equivalent education.


The 1997 LFS questionnaire redesign

To improve data quality, several changes were made to the Labour Force Survey (LFS) questionnaire during the 1997 redesign. One was the removal of possible ambiguities related to the classification of full-time and part-time unemployed job seekers.

Prior to 1997, the relevant question was:

Is ... looking for a full-time or part-time job?

(30 or more
hours per week)
(less than 30
hours per week)

Because the definitions of full-time and part-time were often not read to respondents by interviewers, people were free to provide their own interpretation. To remove the ambiguity, definitions for full-time and part-time were built into the question:

Did ... want a job with more or less than 30 hours a week?

The result was an increase in the proportion of unemployed persons seeking part-time work, with a corresponding decrease in the proportion looking for full-time work. This was clearly demonstrated during the phase-in period. In November 1996, three LFS rotation groups answered the old questionnaire, while the remaining three groups answered the new questionnaire.

Additional data sets, covering different periods, support the conclusions reached from the November 1996 results.

The 1997 introduction of the redesigned 1997 questionnaire resulted in a break of the LFS series on full-time/part-time job seekers—an upward shift in the share of those seeking part-time work, and the reverse for full-time work.


Decomposition formula

The data source used for the study is the Labour Force Survey. A decomposition was performed using a shift share analysis in order to isolate the contribution of the selected demographic variables, sex and age, and of the trend to changes in the growth of part-time job seekers. The end points used in the decomposition are 1976 and 1996. The decomposition was performed using the following formula.

Xt = overall part-time job seekers share at time t
xit = part-time job seekers share for sex i or age group i at time t
yit = total unemployment for sex or age group i at time t as a proportion of total unemployment
h = the number of years between the base year and the end year of the analysis


  1. The redesigned LFS questionnaire was gradually phased in beginning with September 1996. By January 1997, the process was complete. The questionnaire changes affected mostly women since they form the overwhelming majority of part-time job seekers.
  2. In 2000, approximately 18% of employed persons worked part time.
  3. Blank's study analyzes the dynamics of adult women's labour market behaviour over a 14-year period between 1976 and 1989. The study explores labour supply choices among full-time, part-time, or no labour-market work.


  • Blank, R. The dynamics of part-time work. National Bureau of Economic Research working paper series, no. 4911. Cambridge, Mass., 1994. Online article: <http://papers.nber.org/papers/W4911>.
  • Drolet, M. and R. Morissette. Working more? Working less? What do Canadian workers prefer? Statistics Canada research paper series no. 104 (Catalogue no. 11F0019E no. 104), Analytical Studies Branch. Ottawa, 1997.
  • Ehrenberg, R. and R. Smith. Modern Labor Economics: Theory and Public Policy. 4th edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.
  • Marshall, K. "Part-time by choice." Perspectives on Labour and Income (Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 75-001-XPE) 13, no. 1 (Spring 2001): 20-27.
  • Schellenberg, G. The changing nature of part-time work. Canadian Council on Social Development social research series no. 4. Ottawa, 1997.
  • Tilly, C. "Reasons for the continuing growth of part-time employment." Monthly Labor Review 114, no. 3 (March 1991): 10-18. (published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.) Online article: <http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/1991/03/art2full.pdf>.


Berouk Terefe is with the Income and Expenditure Accounts Division. He can be reached at (613) 951-4616 or berouk.terefe@statcan.gc.ca.

Statistics Canada FIP identifier Government of Canada wordmark
Highlights ]
Main menu | Editor's corner | More news | Contact us | Survey information | Back issues ]
Statistics Canada home page | In depth | Français ]

© Statistics Canada - Conditions of  use Published: 2001 11 21