Almost one in eight men work part-time today, compared with fewer than one in 12 two decades ago, according to new research. This means that more men in lower paid roles are working fewer hours or part-time, while higher paid men are working more.

The changes are leading to a ‘hollowing out’ of the male labour force, with fewer middle earners, according to think tank the Resolution Foundation, which commissioned the Counting the hours report.

The changes mean that the share of low-paid men earning less than £175 a week (a third of the typical male weekly wage) has increased by 70 per cent over the last 20 years, while the share of higher-paid men earning more than £1,060 (double the typical weekly wage) has increased by 15 per cent, according to the research.

By contrast, it shows that the share of middle-earning men – earning between £400 and £660 – has fallen by 15 per cent.

The Resolution Foundation points out that when people talk about the labour market ‘hollowing out’ they’re normally referring to mid-skilled jobs moving to other parts of the world, or disappearing altogether as a result of automation.

“But Britain’s real hollowing out problem has much more to do with the hours people are working than the rates of pay different jobs bring,” says Stephen Clarke, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation. “The increase in earnings inequality among men is about the increasing number of low-paid men who are either reducing their hours or moving into part-time work, in some cases against their wishes.”

Working hours

The report uncovered a growing divide in the number of hours that men working full-time do. The average number of hours worked by low-paid men has fallen from 44.3 hours in 1997 to 42.2 hours in 2016, while increasing by 0.5 hours to 37.3 hours for high-paid men.

This is a reversal of the working patterns that we saw 20 years ago, points out the think tank. Low-paid men now work fewer hours on average than higher-paid men (34.1 hours, compared to 36 hours).

Women’s working hours

The report found that the same was not true for female workers. Both part-time and full-time women have increased their hours over the last 20 years. Instead, it says that the difference over the past twenty years was a small rise in the share of higher paid women.

Concerns

The report researchers point out that the last two decades have seen a more equal distribution of low-paid, part-time work between men and women. The Resolution Foundation describes this as ‘no bad thing’. However, it says the fact that over a quarter of low-paid men working part-time want a full-time job is a big concern. Policy makers must be alert to people drifting towards low-paid short-hours work against their will, says the Foundation.

Clarke says: “Stronger pay rises and finding work will always be the best and most direct way for households to boost their incomes. But being able to work the hours you want or need to get by also matters hugely. We should be concerned about the numbers of people who find themselves working fewer hours when they desperately need a full-time job.”

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