Temp Work Boosts Women’s Earnings

Grad student says men don’t see the same long-term gain

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PhD candidate Fraser Summerfield

Job hunters shouldn’t overlook temp agencies as part of their search, especially if they’re women. Temp work has a positive impact on women’s future earnings, according to research by Fraser Summerfield, an Ontario Graduate Scholarship recipient and PhD candidate in the Department of Economics. His own experience working as a temp inspired him to look at whether these placements help or hurt employees.

“I’m looking at the third-party agencies that place people in temp jobs to see if there’s a value added to the job matching process,” he says. “Are they actually providing a useful service and helping people find better jobs?”

According to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, 6.5 per cent of the working-age population was employed in temporary jobs in 2009, up from 5.5 per cent in 1997.

Describing the experiences of temp workers, Summerfield says, “You’re here for a few months and then you’re gone. It’s very informal and there’s no relationship like there is to a regular job. I always wondered if people are hurt by these jobs.”

Summerfield looked at temp workers’ employment status and future earnings 10 years after their placements to see if temp work led to better job opportunities. He found that the benefits of temp work depended on the gender of the worker. “It helped women and did little or nothing for men. It seemed to hurt men in the short-term,” he says, adding that this could be due to the learning curve that comes with starting new jobs that require different types of skills.

Women were better skilled for the temp jobs they filled because they tended to work in jobs where their skills were transferable from one position to the next, he says. Men were often placed in a variety of different jobs, where their skills weren’t always applicable. As the primary earners in their households, he adds, men often had to take whatever temp jobs they were offered, whereas women who were secondary earners could wait for a temp job that best suited their skills.

“They’ve been able to exploit the ability of these agencies to find them better jobs, perhaps because they have more time being a secondary earner,” says Summerfield. “What it boils down to is men and women are using these temp agencies differently.”

Women who had been placed by a temp agency saw their earnings increase more than women who had no temp agency experience. Summerfield says this was due to a combination of working more hours and earning higher wages. Although his data doesn’t show whether these women were still employed by a temp agency 10 years later, he says, “Having had that temp job, they’re much better off.”

Summerfield is comparing temp workers based on a variety of factors, including their gender, level of education and field of employment to see how they fare in third-party temp placements versus direct-hire temp jobs. “They’re compared on many dimensions. We’re controlling for these outside factors and we should be seeing only the effect of having been placed by this agency.”