Is precarious work more prevalent for people with disabilities? The role of age and job tenure

In brief

  • Workers with disabilities are no more likely than those without to work in precarious jobs.
  • However, some subsets of people with disabilities are more likely to work in precarious jobsolder people or people with shorter job tenure.
  • Contrary to expectation, younger people with disabilities are not more likely than older people with disabilities to have precarious jobs.
  • Among people with and without disabilities, having better health is linked to a lower likelihood of working in precarious jobs.

Published: February 2021

Why was this study done?

According to Statistics Canada, in 2018, one in eight workers (13.3 per cent or 2.1 million workers) worked in a temporary job. Also according to Statistics Canada, people with disabilities face more barriers finding and keeping a job; they are also more likely than people without disabilities to work part-time and in short-term jobs. This study, part of the Canadian Disability Participation Project, set out to explore whether, and to what extent, people with disabilities are more likely to work in precarious jobs—i.e. jobs that are low-paid, part-time and lacking job security.

How was the study done?

The study recruited 1,800 workers, across all age groups, with and without disabilities, from a research panel of about one million Canadians. Study participants completed a survey that contained a broad range of questions about their work, disabilities and the impact of their health on work. Participants were categorized as precarious workers if they said they worked part-time in non-permanent contracts, had low job control and were not in a union. 

What did the researchers find?

Similar proportions of survey participants with and without disabilities worked in a permanent job (90 per cent versus 91 per cent) and had full-time hours (88 per cent versus 90 per cent). In both groups, similar proportions (30 per cent versus 27 per cent, respectively) met the definition of precarious workers (again, defined as those who met all four criteria: they worked part-time, had non-permanent jobs, reported low job control and lacked union representation).

When taking into account (or controlling for) sociodemographic factors, work characteristics and health levels, people with disabilities were no more likely than those without disabilities to be in precarious jobs. Notably, self-rated health, regardless of disability status, was a key factor; people who said they had better health were 22 per cent less likely to work in precarious jobs.

The study also looked at how multiple factors interact with each other. It found people with disabilities were more likely to be in precarious work when they were older or when they had shorter job tenure. Older workers with disabilities (50 years or older) were 88 per cent more likely than younger counterparts (18 to 35 years old) to be in precarious work. (In contrast, among people with no disability, older workers were less likely to be in precarious work, though that finding was not statistically significant).

As well, every additional year of job tenure was linked to a five per cent lower likelihood of precarious work among people with disabilities. (The relationship between job tenure and precarious work was not statistically significant for people without disabilities.) 

What are the implications of the study?

Policy-makers and researchers concerned about precarious work have tended to focus more on younger workers, based on studies that have found lower levels of job precarity among older workers. This study suggests that among people with disabilities, older workers also need support to reduce their risk of precarious work. Also, new workers with disabilities may also be more likely to experience precarity. Special attention should be paid to older workers who have disabilities and who work in short-term or temporary contracts.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

This is one of the first studies to examine precarious work in a large sample of Canadian workers with and without disabilities. A limitation of this study is the lack of an accepted measure of precarious work in this field of research; however, a strength of this study is its use of a composite of four job characteristics as an indication of job precarity. Due to its cross-sectional, “moment-in-time” design, the findings do not allow us to infer a cause-and-effect relationship between the factors at play. Also, the findings may be true of this sample and not of the working population with disabilities at large.