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Women less penalised for part time work than previously thought

| Text: Björn Lindahl

Part-time work has few negative consequences for women in the Nordic region. New regulations have reduced the impact on pensions. A preschool teacher or enrolled nurse in Denmark or Norway who works part time for ten years still receives 98-99 percent of the maximum pension.

The figures come from a new study published during the conference Part time in the Nordic region, hosted by NIKK on commission from the Swedish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Marianne SundstromThe main authors were Marianne Sundström, Professor of Labour Economics and master student of demography Alma Wennemo Lanninger, with help from researchers from the other Nordic countries. 

Part time work is often described as a gender trap, because women work far more part time than men in order to focus on children and family issues for set periods of time. They used to be hit later in life when pensions were calculated and they were eligible for less pension pay than full-time employees.

First Nordic-only study 

The study published during the conference is the first to look at both men and women in full-time or part-time work across all of the Nordic countries. It has been difficult to generalise because the different countries have different pension systems, so the researchers have chosen to concentrate on two occupations and the long-term consequences of working part time for women of a certain age. Some preconditions have been worked in; the period of part time work should have lasted no longer than ten years and made up 75 percent of full-time employment, and all the women had had two children. Part-time work lasting for more than ten years has larger consequences for the pension payout. But none of the part-time working women across all of the countries were paid less than 94 percent of what a woman in full time work in the same occupation would get from her pension.

Subsidised by other tax payers

The main reason is the compensation offered to the women through the pension system for their child rearing years. The two researchers have borrowed a term from the insurance industry when describing the differences between the Nordic countries.

“We can conclude that the Finnish, Icelandic and Swedish pension systems are more actuarial than the Danish and Norwegian ones, where part time work mixed with child care is subsidised by other tax payers. What’s more, childless people in Norway and Sweden will loose more out of their pensions when they work part time compared to people with children,” the two researchers write.

Actuarial means that something is calculated according to historical and statistical facts, e.g. when accident statistics are used to calculate insurance premiums.

The conference discussed the political consequences this should have. The risk of getting lower pensions is one of the main arguments in the debate over whether women should choose to work full time. 

The number of part time workers changes slowly

The attitudes to full time or part time work aren’t prone to rapid change. In Finland, the Nordic country with the fewest women in part time work, the number has been nearly constant between 1995 and 2012. 17 years ago 12 percent of women worked part time. Last year that number had risen to 16 percent. Norway has the highest number of women working part time, 36 percent, followed by Sweden at 31 percent, Denmark’s 29 percent and Iceland’s 26 percent.

The number of part time working women in these four countries fell relatively rapidly towards the end of the 90s, but has since remained stable.

In all of the countries the number of part time working men is much lower. It has stayed at between four and ten percent since 1997. Those who do work part time have other reasons for doing so than women. While 30 to 48 percent of women in the five countries say they work part time to accommodate their families, no (!) Icelandic men give that as a reason. Norwegian men are nearly at the same level with four percent, while 23 to 39 percent of men in Denmark, Finland and Sweden say their family is the reason for their working part time. The most common reasons men give for working part-time is ill health or studies.


stands for Nordic Information on Gender and is part of the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research. The full report ‘Part-time Work, Gender and Economic Distribution in the Nordic Countries’ can be read on NIKK’s website.

Some definitions

Pensionable age and the definition of part-time work varies between the different countries. In their comparative work the researchers have used the definition put forward by the ILO, which says anyone working less than 35 hours a week is considered to be a part-time worker. Overtime does not count, only normal working hours.


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