Are part-time jobs sexist?

Tuesday was my last day at my old job, (I start a new one tomorrow,) and so I’ve been reflecting on the experience for a while, a process greatly aided by all the people who inevitably ask, “Oh, why are you leaving?” Besides the fact that my new job (at least on paper) looks fantastic, the real reason I was looking for a new job in the first place all comes down to money. And in this case, hours of work was the determining factor that meant I wasn’t really making enough money at my old job anymore.

I knew it was a 3/4-time job going in, and I don’t really have any complaints about it, because I only expected to be there for one or two years anyway. It did come with benefits, so I, as a single person living alone, could afford to take it anyway, even at less than full-time. Yay, me! It was a fun job and I enjoyed it, so it was worth it. But.

Here’s the thing about 3/4-time jobs. It’s really hard to find a 10-hour/wk job to fill in just those extra hours left over, and if you take a 1/2-time job in addition instead, you’re now working 50 hours/wk, without the benefit of overtime, and unless they’re both fun and interesting jobs, it kind of sucks to have your free time cut into like that. Plus, any time you work over 30 hours at your main job isn’t really overtime, either.

When I started looking for new jobs again, I started looking at other non-profit positions and at jobs I actually have degrees in (ESL teaching). Both of these tend to be female-dominated fields. Both of these fields also seem to have a ridiculous number of part-time jobs advertised. Part of the reason I wanted to get out of ESL teaching is because it is pretty much impossible to find a full-time college-level teaching position, because all the good positions are filled at universities, so you have to wait for someone to die, and community colleges don’t seem to hire anyone full-time in that department. Benefits are expensive, after all.

And then I reviewed all the people I knew who worked at the community college I taught at in Michigan, and realized all the ones who made it their career were married women on their husbands’ insurance plans. As was the other (15-hr/wk) person at the bookstore where I just finished working. Come to think of it, pretty much all of the part-time staff in every department of that non-profit were married women. All the men who worked there had full-time positions. Hmmm.

I’m not necessarily arguing that this only applies to women, because I’m sure there could have been a male part-time employee married to a higher-paid woman with benefits in one of these situations, but it all comes back to what is essentially a requirement that the person with the less-than-full-time job be a dependent spouse, or working enough hours somewhere else to pay for all the independent insurance they need to buy on their own.

I’m sure there are a lot of people out there for whom a part-time job is the perfect answer to their needs. Maybe they can only work while their kids are in school, or are a student themselves, or do freelance work, or whatever. But it seems subtly discriminatory to me to offer positions that assume the applicants have someone else to be dependent upon in order to have the basic necessities, such as access to health and dental care, taken care of.

There are always arguments about how the organization, be it non-profit, community college, what have you, can’t afford another full-time employee. But when you start building a large work force of only 1/2-time employees with no benefits, especially ones in positions with high-level qualifications, I start to wonder whether you couldn’t get just as much work done with a smaller number of full-time employees, who could feel like they had grown-up jobs and more self-sufficiency. Of course, all of this would seem far less suspicious if the US had universal health care, and the burden wasn’t so much on the employer anyway, but that’s another post…

-posted by Dana

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4 Responses to Are part-time jobs sexist?

  1. Will says:

    Do you have the same opinion about contract workers?

  2. Dana says:

    I don’t know if I do or not. I’ve never been a contract worker, and thus don’t know much about the pros and cons. I’m inclined to say no, if it’s a full-time contract job at a decent hourly wage, because it allows for the person to reasonably procure insurance for themselves. For instance, if I had full-time hours at the hourly rate I got paid for my part-time community college teaching job, I’d likely be much less irritated by the whole issue. But like I said, I don’t know.

  3. Will says:

    I don’t think you need to have a full-time job in order to be able to procure insurance for yourself. I pay about $100 a month for health and dental insurance, which I figure you should be able to do if you have a 30-hour a week job paying at least $7.50 an hour.

  4. Mary Nelson Abbott says:

    These are some interesting thoughts, particularly because I’m interviewing next weekend for a 3/4 time job that will provide both my husband and me with full insurance and benefits. And because we’ll be moving across the country if I get the job, my husband will be unemployed for at least a little while, and will most likely not get a full-time job for at least 6 months or so after we move (he’s a teacher, so he could sub, but it isn’t likely that he’d be hired for a full-time position in the middle of the school year). Which would make me the primary breadwinner and insurance provider, with a 3/4 time position. Hm.

    In the mean time, we’re both working full-time jobs and our insurance is not tied together yet. He makes more than twice what I do — in fact, I could probably quit my current job, go on his insurance, and make more money working part-time at a coffee shop or something. And in the 3/4 time job I want, I will make more than twice what I do now. It’ll be roughly comparable to what he currently makes, including insurance and benefits, and it will be my first year in solo ministry (i.e., I’ve only got “internship” experience), but he’s been a teacher for 12 years. And teachers’ annual raises are dependent on years of experience.

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