Area #2

Precarious Jobs and Work-Family Dynamics

Precarious Jobs and Underemployment: Employment Traps or Bridges?

In several articles published in highly esteemed journals, I have established a strong empirical connection between non-standard forms of employment, including casual and fixed-term employment, poor work conditions, and wage inequality. This relationship is found to vary greatly throughout an individual's lifetime and across gender and ethnic groups in both the Netherlands and Australia. 

In one co-authored study (with R. Dekker) published in the British Journal of Industrial Relations in 2015, we explored whether prior fixed-term employment influenced the likelihood and duration of a subsequent unemployment spell. Our analysis, based on the labor market histories of a sample of working Dutch men and women, revealed that workers previously employed in fixed-term contracts had a higher risk of recurring unemployment. Furthermore, subsequent unemployment spells were not shorter for those previously in fixed-term contracts compared to those previously in regular contracts. These findings suggest that, at least in the Netherlands, fixed-term contracts did not serve as pathways to better-paying jobs, but instead created a pool of precarious and dead-end positions.

Again, with a focus on non-standard employment, co-authored work (with M. Wooden) published in Human Relations in 2017 examined how past casual employment patterns were linked to future wage outcomes, paying close attention to wage trajectories and how they differed by gender and age. Sociological scholarship around the notion of the ‘ideal worker’ was used to help understand wage differentials across the different groups. Results from this study showed that, among the different age and gender groups, prime-age working men in casual employment over the past five years were most severely penalized in their subsequent wage trajectories. 

In a recently published study at Socius (with S. Fauser), we also investigated and visualized the nature of underemployment dynamics in Australia asking whether underemployment is a temporary phase that improves with work experience, or whether it tends to become an enduring experience. Visualization of underemployment dynamics revealed that it is a persistent and gender-biased issue. Women are more likely to experience underemployment in their early careers compared to men. Furthermore, women are more likely to become trapped in a cycle of underemployment and inactivity.

Non-standard employment and family outcomes

My ongoing research funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Special Research Initiative grant investigates the role of temporary, casual and part-time paid work (i.e., non-standard employment arrangements) on Australians' childbirth intentions and outcomes. In a recently published article at Social Forces, we draw on 19 years of data from the HILDA Survey to investigate this relationship. We find that both fixed-term contracts and casual employment lead to a significantly lower probability of first births among men, with the effect of fixed-term contracts being almost as twice as large as the effect of casual employment. We also find that these negative fertility effects vary with workers’ education, occupational status, country of origin, age, and relationship status. 

Furthermore, in a recent article published in the Journal of Economics & Human Biology, we investigated the causal impact of lockdowns on fertility intentions, among a large sample of Australians (aged 18–45) and leveraged variation from a unique natural experiment that occurred in Australia in 2020: a lockdown imposed in the state of Victoria, but not elsewhere in Australia. Results revealed a significantly larger decline in reported intentions of having another child among women who lived through the protracted lockdown. The average effect was small, with fertility intentions estimated to fall by between 2.8% and 4.3% of the pre-pandemic mean. This negative effect was, however, more pronounced among those aged over 35 years, the less educated, and those employed on fixed-term contracts. Impacts on men’s fertility intentions were generally negligible, with a notable exception being Indigenous Australians.

Published work at Social Science & Medicine-Population Health, examined changes in birth rates in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic and the extent to which such changes were influenced by lockdowns. Using natality data at State and small regional areas over the period 2011 to 2022 our study shows that  Australia experienced a temporary baby bump with birth rates gradually returning to pre-pandemic levels in 2022. Most negatively impacted were those living in language-diverse areas.

Ongoing work as part of this project explores the factors driving the relationship between precarious employment arrangements and birth rates in Australia and Germany.

Other Research on Labour Market Inequalities

In 2009, I co-authored an article with colleagues from the U.S. and Sweden published in Social Politics, which investigated whether gender wage inequality varied by educational level in the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States. Our findings showed that, unlike in the U.S., the gender wage gap in Sweden and the Netherlands was greatest for the highly educated, due to higher returns to education for men than for women in these countries. This study was among the most cited articles in Social Politics for three consecutive years from 2010 to 2012.

In another interdisciplinary work, published in the Journal of Criminal Justice in 2014, we investigated whether employment reduced offending rates in juvenile sex offenders, using Dutch longitudinal data and a series of hybrid random effects models. Our study showed that employment was associated with a decrease in offending, demonstrating the shielding and positive effects of employment.