Women, young workers, minorities are more likely to be “underemployed”

In brief

  • The study confirms that certain social groups are more likely than others to be affected negatively by changes in the labour market.
  • These groups are also more susceptible to negative health effects of the insecurities that arise with these changes.

Why was this study done?

The trend towards more flexible work arrangements has led to fewer opportunities for full-time permanent jobs. For some workers, this trend has caused deterioration in job quality, such as stagnant wages and underemployment. Certain types of workers seem to be more susceptible than others, particularly in terms of their health and well-being. This study looks at the health effects of underemployment in different social groups. It focuses on stress as the pathway by which underemployment might have an impact on health.

How was the study done?

Underemployment is defined in terms of the fairness of exchange between workers and employers in three different areas: hours of work, income from work and skill use at work. Underemployment arises when there is a mismatch between work demands or conditions, and the worker’s needs, resources or abilities in any of these areas. Researchers collected information from the Canadian Survey of Labour Income Dynamics (SLID) on the health and work experiences reported by 5,546 individuals over a six-year period. Using this data, they studied the health consequences of the three types of underemployment.

What did the researchers find?

Women, young workers and visible minorities were more likely to experience underemployment than their counterparts. The negative health effects varied in different social groups. For women, income or earnings underemployment was associated with poor health. For underemployed men, poor health was associated with hours of work. Younger workers were also more susceptible to the negative health effects of hours underemployment compared to older workers.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

Because the study followed workers over time, researchers could isolate the health declines that occurred following an experience with underemployment. However, the SLID did not measure mental health. Yet mental health may be affected by work experiences earlier or to a greater degree than physical health.

Publication Information

Title: 

The social patterning of underemployment and its health consequences.

Author(s): 

Scott-Marshall H, Tompa E, Trevithick S

Journal: 

International Journal of Contemporary Sociology, 2007: vol. 44, pp 7-35