July 2004, Vol. 127, No. 7
Book reviews from past issues
Nonstandard Work in Developed Economies: Causes and Consequences. By Susan Houseman and Machiko Osawa, eds. Kalamazoo, MI, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, 2003, 513 pp., $70/cloth; $26/paperback.
This informative collection of studies uses an interdisciplinary and comparative approach to explore why nonstandard work arrangements have grown in many developed countries and the implications of these arrangements for workers. The papers were originally presented at a 2000 conference sponsored by the Japan Foundation and the Upjohn Institute.
Nonstandard work refers to jobs that are not full-time paid employment of unlimited duration. Nonstandard work takes multiple forms, and each chapter of the volume is careful to indicate the form(s) being considered and the differences across countries in their definitions. Most chapters focus on part-time work, one of the most well enumerated forms of nonstandard work. In addition, various types of temporary or limited-duration employment are covered, known in Europe as "fixed-term contracts" and in the United States as "contingent work." Several chapters also deal with trends in forms of self-employment, such as contract workers provided to a particular client or independent contractors who have few or no employees. These types of employment come within the BLS concept of "alternative work arrangements."
Of the 12 chapters in the book, 10 of them, excluding the first and last one, can be viewed in three groups. The first group consists of six papers that explore the development of nonstandard employment on mainly a paired-country basis. Hoffmann and Walwei study the rapid growth in nonstandard employment in Germany and Denmark; Fagan and Ward contrast the Netherlands, which has had rapid growth in both part-time and temporary employment, with Great Britain, which has had much slower growth in these forms. Italy and Spain, countries similar in their high unemployment and relatively highly regulated labor markets, are shown by Cebrián, Moreno, Samek and others to have quite different nonstandard employment patterns. Two chapters compare the United States with another country: limited growth of nonstandard work arrangements in the United States is contrasted with a rapid evolution in France and Japan, by Carré and by Houseman and Osawa, respectively. Finally, Gustafsson, Kenjoh, and Wetzels explore employment choices and pay differences among four European countries: Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
Women in nonstandard employment are the focus of two chapters in the next grouping. Nagase concentrates on Japanese mothers who work, while Cassirer considers nonstandard work arrangements among women in the United States. Furthermore, several of the first group of papers emphasize the fact that women in all countries covered are disproportionately involved in nonstandard forms of work, particularly part-time and temporary jobs.
The final grouping consists of two chapters that consider laws pertaining to nonstandard employment. Schömann and Schömann discuss European Union (EU) regulation of nonstandard employment, while Kojima and Fujikawa compare and contrast employment law in Japan and the United States. These two chapters provide an essential legal background that aids in understanding the crucial role that laws play in the phenomenon of nonstandard employment. The legal movement in the EU is toward guaranteeing the same benefits and protections to workers in nonstandard activities as to those in regular full-time positions, with the Netherlands leading the way. By contrast, Japan and the United States lack such movement toward parity.
The introductory and concluding chapters serve as excellent bookends to the three groups of studies. Houseman and Osawa’s introductory chapter is a fine overview of the volume, while the final chapter by Kalleberg and Reynolds tests the conventional wisdom on workers’ attitudes toward nonstandard work arrangements, based upon the 1997 International Social Survey Program module on "work orientations." When controlling for demographic characteristics and occupations, their analysis finds, for most countries, surprisingly few statistically significant differences between workers in standard and nonstandard positions in their attitudes and behaviors (such as absenteeism) toward their work. Admittedly speculative explanations rather than hard evidence are given for these findings.
What are the consequences of nonstandard work for workers? The studies in this volume reveal that, in most countries, workers in part-time and temporary positions often are concentrated in low-skilled, low-paid jobs with little job security. An important question left largely unanswered is to what extent nonstandard work becomes a transition phase to standard work. We are told only that there is little mobility between "regular" and "nonregular" positions in Japan, while in Spain, over a long timeframe, temporary workers typically settle into permanent jobs. Apparently, the data on job flows from nonstandard to standard work are scant, pointing out a need for such data in order to explore the extent to which nonstandard workers become "trapped" in this form of employment.
Various aspects of nonstandard work in the Netherlands are covered in several chapters, and together they provide an interesting portrait of this country. The Netherlands presents a unique profile—it is a country with low unemployment rates, high job growth, and the largest part-time sector of the countries studied. Indeed, according to Gustafsson, Kenjoh, and Wetzels, the Netherlands has been called "the first part-time economy in the world." Almost 40 percent of employed persons work part time, compared with an EU average of 18 percent. The Netherlands is the only EU country in which the majority of employed women and a sizable minority of men are now working part time in their core working years, and with relatively few doing so on an involuntary basis. We learn in the Fagan and Ward chapter that the Dutch government actively promoted the expansion of part-time work as a means to job-intensive growth beginning in the 1980s through a combination of subsidies and public employment policies, information campaigns, and legislation to extend equal treatment to part-time employees. Schömann and Schömann trace the evolution of the Dutch legal framework for each form of nonstandard employment, while Gustafsson and others add some historical and comparative perspective, describing how the country moved from the "Dutch Disease" of the 1970s to the "Dutch Miracle" of the 1990s, and contrasting the Netherlands with three other European countries that have taken quite different paths. Kalleberg and Reynolds reveal that Dutch part-time workers have jobs that they perceive as paying less and having fewer opportunities for promotion than those of full-time workers.
The example of the Netherlands demonstrates how nonstandard work conditions need not be "contingent" in the sense of precarious or uncertain. Indeed, nonstandard jobs have become virtually standard in the Netherlands, in many respects. The Dutch model is, however, not easily transferable to other countries. Fagan and Ward argue that this model is dependent on a number of economic and political conditions, including "an inclusive welfare state regime, centrally institutionalized collective bargaining mechanisms involving a powerful trade union movement, high wage and productivity levels, and a large pool of available women outside the labor market." They also note that the situation for Dutch nonstandard workers is not without some negative aspects: "the extension of equal treatment to marginal part-time workers (those working fewer than 12 hours a week) has been slow….and part-time work is still mainly a female undertaking, thus reinforcing gender segregation of the labor market."
The U.S. experience is in sharp contrast with the Netherlands, many other European countries, and Japan in terms of levels and trends in nonstandard work. Most nonstandard forms of work have been fixtures of the U.S. labor market for many years, whereas they are more recent phenomena in Europe. Houseman and Osawa show that in 1998 temporary and part-time workers comprised about 20 percent of total U.S. employment, while the proportions were much higher in other countries: for example, the Netherlands (50 percent), Sweden (40 percent), the United Kingdom and Spain (around 30 percent), and Japan (25 percent). The U.S. proportions have been rather stable since the 1980s, with full-time jobs (albeit, some being nonstandard) accounting for most of the strong employment gains characterizing the U.S. labor market in the 1980s and 1990s. In Japan, mobility of regular workers in the "lifetime employment system" is almost nonexistent, but that country has long had a "peripheral" or nonstandard segment of the labor force that gives its system some flexibility. In Japan’s economic downturn of the 1990s, the nonstandard work force became more pronounced as the lifetime system came under increased pressure. Temporary agency employment in Japan is expected to grow rapidly due to a 1999 law substantially deregulating this sector. Europe has a lengthy tradition of regulated labor markets; for instance, before the 1980s, temporary agencies were generally illegal and layoffs were rare due to legal constraints. Labor markets were deregulated beginning in the 1980s, and in the 1990s nonstandard forms of work accounted for most, if not all, of the meager job growth in most European countries.
The chapters of Nonstandard Work in Developed Countries are consistently well written and, taken together, provide an in-depth analysis of historical, legal, cultural, economic, and institutional factors operating in each country that help to explain their diverse experiences with regard to nonstandard work.
Division of Foreign Labor Statistics,
Bureau of Labor Statistics
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