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How has Covid-19 affected part-time jobs?

People in full-time employment have been far more protected from job loss than part-time workers over the course of the pandemic. But younger workers have lost out in both part-time and full-time work, which is in part because of the different kinds of jobs they typically do.

Signs of recovery in employment were heralded in the latest labour market data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), but in truth the overall number of full-time jobs has not fallen throughout the pandemic. All the slack in the economic downturn has been taken up by a fall in the number of part-time jobs. Anyone in full-time work has been cushioned relative to those in part-time work.

As ever, macro-trends obscure different patterns at a more disaggregated level. Full-time working actually decreased for younger workers alongside falls in part-time working, but this was more than offset by full-time job growth among older workers. What you do matters in terms of your chances of employment in the UK labour market, but so too does how old you are doing what you do.

The data show a rise in employment in the latest quarter, which can only be a good thing. But buried in that headline is the fact that the recession has been ok for some but not others. One obvious dimension is young workers, who have lost out significantly over the last 18 months. But another dimension in which the employment hit has been borne unequally is how many hours are worked in a job.

Figure 1 shows the levels of full-time and part-time workers in the UK since the start of 2019. These data come from the Labour Force Survey, (LFS), which has suffered a lot from non-response during the pandemic and so the estimates should be taken with caution. Nonetheless, the ONS seems happy to publish them.

The charts show that since the first quarter of 2020 (the start of the pandemic), the number of people in full-time work has grown by around 100,000, while the number in part-time work has fallen by around 800,000.

Figure 1: Full-time and part-time jobs in the UK (age 16+)

Source: Labour Force Survey

It is not unusual for jobs ‘at the margin’ to fall in a downturn. Like it or not, part-time jobs are often viewed by employers as less than core workforce and so, along with temporary working, they are often to the fore of any labour market adjustment.

But this is not just a manifestation of the fact that many younger adults are in part-time work and the pandemic affected younger workers most.

Figure 2: Full-time and part-time jobs in the UK for younger workers (16-24)

Source: Labour Force Survey

Figure 2 shows that younger workers lost out in both part-time and full-time jobs. Figure 3 shows that part-time working fell among older adults as well. But the rise in full-time working among older workers is much stronger and it more than offsets the fall in full-time working among younger workers.

Figure 3: Full-time and part-time jobs in the UK for older workers (25+)

Source: Labour Force Survey

Why would full-time working fall for younger workers but grow among older workers?

Much of this is because younger workers and older workers do different jobs. The distribution of workers across industries is broadly similar. But the distribution of workers by age across occupations is rather different. Younger workers are much more likely to work in sales and what the ONS calls ‘elementary occupations’ – and these occupations are always at risk in a downturn.

Younger workers also have less experience and this often matters for who is let go or who is not hired within any given occupation. Because of this, economists say that the ‘elasticity of substitution’ between younger and older workers – the ease with which employers can switch between the two – is rather low. This is why we should be cautious of any claims that young people are losing out to older workers. In short, they do different jobs.

To show this, Table 1 traces the pattern of employment in eight (broad) occupations for older and younger workers. Comparisons over time are hindered by the ONS decision to introduce changes to its occupational coding halfway through the pandemic, so this is just a snapshot of the latest numbers.

Part-time jobs for young adults are dominated by sales and elementary manual jobs, unlike among older workers where there is a much broader range of part-time working. These jobs were more at risk in the downturn. For full-time jobs, there just aren’t as many professional or managerial jobs among younger workers, which are typically less likely to suffer in a downturn. And there are relatively more younger workers in full-time employment in the high-risk sales and elementary manual jobs.

Table 1: Occupation shares for younger and older workers

Job typeFull-timePart-time
 Age 16-24Age 25+Age 16-24Age 25+
Total (millions)
of which (%)    
Assoc. Professional17.615.36.013.3
Skilled Manual13.610.42.54.6
Source: Labour Force Survey, 2021 second quarter


In terms of your chances of employment in the UK labour market, what you do matters but so too does how old you are doing what you do.

Anyone in full-time work has been cushioned over the downturn relative to those in part-time work. Add this to the mix of jobs that young people do and we can begin to understand better why this economic downturn has hit younger workers hardest.

Where can I find out more?

  • For more information about the LFS sample, see LFS.

Who are experts on this question?

  • Jonathan Wadsworth
  • Paul Gregg
  • Barbara Petrongolo
Author: Jonathan Wadsworth
Photo by Vanna Phon on Unsplash

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