Constrained choices

Understanding the prevalence of part-time work among low-paid workers in the UK

This is the fifth output from the Resolution Foundation which contributes to the Young person’s future health inquiry. It discusses the concentration of part-time work among low-paid workers (including young people), and explores the reasons why low-paid workers work part-time, and the extent to which low-paid workers experience agency over their working hours. It draws on the findings from four focus groups carried out in October 2022.

The long-run trend in developed countries is for average hours of work to fall, so we should view workers choosing to work fewer hours (which, for some, will mean working part-time) as being part of what progress looks like. But there is a concentration of part-time work among lower-paid workers.  This paper combines quantitative analysis with evidence from four focus groups to give policy makers a clearer sense of how to navigate these competing considerations. Our conclusion is that policy should target some of the drivers of shorter-hour working amongst lower earners – namely those that constrain workers’ choices – while recognising both the real benefits it can bring and the complexities of lives that sit behind decisions about how – and for how long – we work.