“Just a Job?” An Assessment of Precarious Employment Trajectories by Gender Among Young People in the U.S.


  • Skye Allmang Rutgers University, School of Social Work
  • Todd Franke University of California, Los Angeles




Precarious employment, gender, emerging adults


Precarious employment is on the rise in the United States. Research suggests that young workers are more likely than older workers to be in precarious work. Yet much remains unknown regarding the precarious nature of employment experienced by young workers, despite evidence of the importance of this period for long-term employment opportunities. To address this gap in knowledge, this study used a nationally-representative, longitudinal dataset to create a multi-dimensional measure of precarious employment, and assessed precarious employment trajectories over time for young women and men. Findings revealed that, while there were significant shifts in levels of precarity over time for both males and females, patterns differed by gender. Overall, higher percentages of females than males remained concentrated at the semi-precarious level over time—meaning that they did not move further into or out of precarious employment—while higher percentages of males became either much more precarious or much less precarious over time. These findings challenge the common assumption that young people generally move out of low-wage or otherwise “bad” jobs over time, and suggest that there is a need for additional attention to gendered patterns in job quality among young people. Social workers have an important role to play in helping young people enter non-precarious jobs, and in engaging in advocacy to improve the quality of jobs available.


Add Health. (n.d.). Data. https://addhealth.cpc.unc.edu/data/

Alterman, T., Luckhaupt, S. E., Dahlhamer, J. M., Ward, B. W., & Calvert, G. M. (2013). Job insecurity, work‐family imbalance, and hostile work environment: Prevalence data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 56(6), 660-669. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajim.22123

Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55(5), 469-480. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.55.5.469

Benach, J., Vives, A., Tarafa, G., Delclos, C., & Muntaner, C. (2016). What should we know about precarious employment and health in 2025? Framing the agenda for the next decade of research. International Journal of Epidemiology, 45(1), 232-238. doi:https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyv342

Bernhardt, A., & Osterman, P. (2017). Organizing for good jobs: Recent developments and new challenges. Work and Occupations, 44(1), 89-112. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/0730888415625096

Blau, F. D., & Kahn, L. M. (2007). The gender pay gap: Have women gone as far as they can? Academy of Management Perspectives, 21(1), 7-23. https://doi.org/10.5465/amp.2007.24286161

Boris, E., & Klein, J. (2006). Organizing home care: Low-waged workers in the welfare state. Politics & Society, 34(1), 81-108. https://doi.org/10.1177/0032329205284757

Boushey, H. (2005). No way out: How prime‐age workers get trapped in minimum‐wage jobs. WorkingUSA, 8(6), 659-670. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-4580.2005.00076.x

Bowker, A. H. (1948). A test for symmetry in contingency tables. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 43, 572-574. https://doi.org/10.1080/01621459.1948.10483284

Carré, F., & Heintz, J. (2009). The United States: Different sources of precariousness in a mosaic of employment arrangements. In L. F. Vosko, M. MacDonald, & I Campbell (Eds.), Gender and the contours of precarious employment (pp. 43-59). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203874424

Cech, E. A. (2016). Mechanism or myth? Family plans and the reproduction of occupational gender segregation. Gender & Society, 30(2), 265-288. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243215608798

Chan, S., & Tweedie, D. (2015). Precarious work and reproductive insecurity. Social Alternatives, 34(4), 5-13

Chen, P., & Chantala, K. (2014). Guidelines for analyzing Add Health data. Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1-53.

Chirkova, S. (2019). The impact of parental leave policy on child-rearing and employment behavior: The case of Germany. IZA Journal of Labor Policy, 9(1), 1-27. https://doi.org/10.2478/izajolp-2019-0007

Congress.gov. (2019). H.R.1864 - Pay Equity for All Act of 2019. https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1864/all-info

Cranford, C. J., & Vosko, L. F. (2006). Conceptualizing precarious employment: Mapping wage work across social location and occupational context. In Precarious employment: Understanding labour market insecurity in Canada (pp. 43-66). McGill-Queen's University Press.

Cranford, C., Vosko, L., & Zukewich, N. (2003). The gender of precarious employment in Canada. Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations, 58(3), 454-482. https://doi.org/10.7202/007495ar

Dunn, O. J. (1961). Multiple comparisons among means. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 56(293), 52-64.

Frade, C., Darmon, I., & Laparra, M. (2004). Precarious employment in Europe: A comparative study of labour market related risk in flexible economies. Esope Project, European Commission. http://ec.europa.eu/research/social-sciences/pdf/finalreport/hpse-ct-2001-00075-final-report.pdf

García-Pérez, C., Prieto-Alaiz, M., & Simón, H. (2017). A new multidimensional approach to measuring precarious employment. Social Indicators Research, 134(2), 437-454. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-016-1447-6

Glatt, J., & Wunnava, P. V. (2018). Help not wanted: The dismal science of youth unemployment's scarring effect. iBusiness, 10, 51-84 https://doi.org/10.4236/ib.2018.102004

Goldin, C. (2014). A grand gender convergence: Its last chapter. American Economic Review, 104(4), 1091-1119. https://doi.org/10.1257/aer.104.4.1091

Goldin, C., Kerr, S. P., Olivetti, C., & Barth, E. (2017). The expanding gender earnings gap: Evidence from the LEHD-2000 Census. American Economic Review, 107(5), 110-114. https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.p20171065

Haas, L., & Hwang, C. P. (2008). The impact of taking parental leave on fathers’ participation in childcare and relationships with children: Lessons from Sweden. Community, Work and Family, 11(1), 85-104. https://doi.org/10.1080/13668800701785346

Harris, K. M. (2009). The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), Waves I & II, 1994–1996; Wave III, 2001–2002; Wave IV, 2007-2009 [machine-readable data file and documentation]. Chapel Hill, NC: Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. https://www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/addhealth/faqs/addhealth/index.html#how-do-i-cite-design

Hegewisch, A., & Gornick, J. C. (2011). The impact of work-family policies on women's employment: A review of research from OECD countries. Community, Work & Family, 14(2), 119-138. https://doi.org/10.1080/13668803.2011.571395

Hegewisch, A., Liepmann, H., Hayes, J., & Hartmann, H. (2010). Separate and not equal? Gender segregation in the labor market and the gender wage gap. Institute for Women’s Policy Research Briefing Paper, 377, 1-16. https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/wpallimport/files/iwpr-export/publications/C377.pdf

Hout, M. (2019). The employment patterns of young adults, 1989–2014. In L. S. Chancer, M. Sánchez-Jankowski, & C. Trost (Eds.), Youth, jobs, and the future: Problems and prospects (pp. 19-34). Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780190685898.001.0001

Kaiser Family Foundation. (2017). Key facts about the uninsured population. https://www.kff.org/uninsured/fact-sheet/key-facts-about-the-uninsured-population/

Kalleberg, A. L. (2000). Nonstandard employment relations: Part-time, temporary and contract work. Annual Review of Sociology, 26(1), 341-365. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.341

Kalleberg, A. L. (2009). Precarious work, insecure workers: Employment relations in transition. American Sociological Review, 74(1), 1-22. https://doi.org/10.1177/000312240907400101

Kalleberg, A. L. (2019). Precarious Work and Young Workers in the United States. In L. S. Chancer, M. Sánchez-Jankowski, & C. Trost (Eds.), Youth, jobs, and the future: Problems and prospects (pp. 35-54). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780190685898.001.0001

Kalleberg, A. L., & Vallas, S. P. (2018). Probing precarious work: Theory, research, and politics. Research in the Sociology of Work, 31, 1-30. https://doi.org/10.1108/s0277-283320170000031017

Kalleberg, A. L., & Von Wachter, T. M. (2017). The U.S. labor market during and after the Great Recession: Continuities and transformations. RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 3(3), 1-19. https://doi.org/10.7758/rsf.2017.3.3.01

Katz, L. F., & Krueger, A. B. (2016). The rise and nature of alternative work arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015 (No. w22667). National Bureau of Economic Research. https://doi.org/10.3386/w22667

Kletzer, L. G., & Fairlie, R. (1999). The long-term costs of job displacement among young workers. Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.

Lambert, S. J. (1993). Workplace policies as social policy. Social Service Review, 67(2), 237-260. https://doi.org/10.1086/603980

Lambert, S. J., & Henly, J. R. (2014). Measuring Precarious Work Schedules. University of Chicago. EINet Working Paper. https://ssa.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/uploads/managingprecariousworkschedules_11.11.2015.pdf

Lerum, C. (2013). Equal pay for women can become a reality: A proposal for enactment of the Paycheck Fairness Act. https://commons.lib.niu.edu/handle/10843/18493

Mandel, H., & Semyonov, M. (2005). Family policies, wage structures, and gender gaps: Sources of earnings inequality in 20 countries. American Sociological Review, 70(6), 949-967. https://doi.org/10.1177/000312240507000604

Marini, M. M., & Fan, P. L. (1997). The gender gap in earnings at career entry. American Sociological Review, 62 (4),588-604. https://doi.org/10.2307/2657428

McCutcheon, A. L. (1987). Latent class analysis. Newbury Park, CA: Sage .

Mroz, T. A., & Savage, T. H. (2006). The long-term effects of youth unemployment. Journal of Human Resources, 41(2), 259-293.

Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998-2011). Mplus User's Guide (6th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Authors.

Nylund, K., Asparouhov, T., & Muthén, B. (2007). Deciding on the number of classes in latent class analysis and growth mixture modeling: A Monte Carlo simulation study. Structural Equation Modeling, 14, 535-569. https://doi.org/10.1080/10705510701575396

Osgood, D. W., Foster, E. M., Flanagan, C., & Ruth, G. R. (Eds). (2005). Introduction: Why Focus on the Transition to Adulthood for Vulnerable Populations? In On your own without a net: The transition to adulthood for vulnerable populations (pp. 1-26). University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226637853.001.0001

Poo, A. J. (2011). A twenty-first century organizing model: Lessons from the New York Domestic Workers Bill of Rights campaign. New Labor Forum, 20(1), 51-55. https://doi.org/10.4179/nlf.201.0000008

Pulignano, V. (2019). Work in deregulated labour markets: A research agenda for precariousness. ETUI Research Paper-Working Paper. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3350980

Quinlan, M., Mayhew, C., & Bohle, P. (2001). The global expansion of precarious employment, work disorganization, and consequences for occupational health: placing the debate in a comparative historical context. International Journal of Health Services, 31(3), 507-536. https://doi.org/10.2190/22bk-9xc0-ak7l-m6qh

Quinlan, M., Muntaner, C., Solar, O., Vergara, M., Eijkemans, G., Santana, V., Chung, H., Castedo, A., Benach, J., & EMCONET Network. (2010). Policies and interventions on employment relations and health inequalities. International Journal of Health Services, 40(2), 297-307. https://doi.org/10.2190/hs.40.2.i

Rodgers, G. (1989). Precarious work in Western Europe: The state of the debate. In G. Rodgers & J. Rodgers (Eds.), Precarious jobs in labour market regulation: The growth of atypical employment in Western Europe. International Labour Organisation.‏ https://doi.org/10.4337/9781784715755

Shaffer, M. A., Joplin, J. R., Bell, M. P., Lau, T., & Oguz, C. (2000). Gender discrimination and job-related outcomes: A cross-cultural comparison of working women in the United States and China. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 57(3), 395-427. https://doi.org/10.1006/jvbe.1999.1748

Toossi, M. (2002). A century of change: The US labor force, 1950-2050. Monthly Labor Review, May 2002, 15-28. https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2002/05/art2full.pdf

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2005). Contingent and alternative employment arrangements, February 2005. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/history/conemp.txt

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015). Worker’s expectations about losing and replacing their jobs: 35 years of change. https://doi.org/10.21916/mlr.2015.1

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2018). Contingent and alternative employment arrangements. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/conemp.pdf

Vosko, L. F., & Clarke, L. F. (2009). Canada: Gendered precariousness and social reproduction. In L. F. Vosko, M. MacDonald, M., & I. Campbell (Eds.), Gender and the contours of precarious employment (pp. 26-42). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203874424

Vosko, L. F., MacDonald, M., & Campbell, I. (Eds.). (2009). Gender and the contours of precarious employment. NY: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203874424

Welle, B., & Heilman, M. E. (2007). Formal and informal discrimination against women at work: The role of gender stereotypes. In S. W. Gilliland, D. D. Steiner, & D. P. Skarlicki (Eds.), Research in social issues in management: Managing social and ethical issues in organizations (pp. 229-252). USA: Information Age.