Precarious Work Schedules among Early Career Adults in the U.S.

Awarded Scholars:
Susan J. Lambert, University of Chicago
Julia R. Henly, University of Chicago
Project Date:
Jan 2015
Award Amount:

Co-funded with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Recent research on job quality and work-life balance shows that work schedules can facilitate or hinder workers’ efforts to arrange caregiving, pursue an education, secure a second job, maintain meaningful relationships, and earn an adequate income. Non-standard work hours and the lack of control over hours of work is negatively associated with family routines, marital quality, child care and child wellbeing, worker health and job performance. These findings have been documented in case studies of workers and firms that tend to analyze a single dimension of work schedules (e.g. unsocial hours) or particular workers (e.g. low-wage workers) or sectors (e.g. retail workers). Until recently, national surveys included measures of schedule control or non-standard hours, but not measures of schedule unpredictability and work-hour fluctuations.

To address this data gap, Susan Lambert and Julia Henly worked with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to develop more accurate and comprehensive measures of fluctuations in weekly work hours and advance schedule notice (a measure of unpredictability) that were included in the most recent rounds of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). Combined with existing items on schedule control and non-standard timing, the NLSY97 now offers a uniquely comprehensive picture of work schedules in a nationally representative sample of early career adults (age 26-32). Lambert and Henly will use these new data to examine the relationships among different dimensions of work schedules (namely, advance notice, fluctuating hours, schedule control, and unsocial timing of work) and identify personal and occupational factors that place individuals and couples at risk for unstable work schedules. Because the NLSY97 also asks detailed information about partners’ work schedules, and about young children living at home, they can also study the relationship between caregiving arrangements and work schedules, at both the individual and couple levels.


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