JILPT Research Report No.188
Research on the Work and Lives of Non-Regular Workers in Mid-Prime-Age:
Focusing on Conversion to Regular Employment

March 31, 2017

Summary

Research Objective

More than twenty years have passed since the increase in young non-regular workers first became seen as problematic; teenagers who graduated from high schools and universities in the period known as the “employment ice age” are now entering their 40s.

Consequently, we are now seeing an increase in non-regular workers in the 35-44 age brackets, who could no longer be called “young.” The number of these workers had reached 1.5 million as of 2015, even if married women are excluded.

In light of this situation, JILPT has been conducting “Research on working styles and work consciousness of prime-age workers in non-regular employment” since FY2012, consisting of an individual interview survey in 2012 and a national questionnaire survey in 2013. The findings of these surveys can be summarized as follows.

  1. Male and unmarried female non-regular workers in mid-prime-age tend to choose non-regular employment for negative reasons more than young non-regular workers do. Unlike regular employees, their job level does not improve and their wages or salaries also tend not to rise as they move from younger years to mid-prime-age, despite the fact that many of them are their family’s breadwinner.
  2. As a result, non-regular workers in mid-prime-age are more prone to poverty and are less satisfied with their lives than young non-regular workers are. In addition, partly due to their age, they often have health problems.
  3. Many male and unmarried female non-regular workers in mid-prime-age have experience of working as regular employees in their younger years. Based on this, the authors examined the mechanism that causes workers to quit jobs in regular employment and take up non-regular employment. The findings suggest that workers who have experienced overwork or harassment in a workplace where they worked as regular employees are more likely to switch to non-regular employment.
  4. The ratio of male and unmarried female non-regular workers in mid-prime age who wish to convert to regular employment is the same as that of young non-regular workers. Although a conversion from non-regular to regular employment undeniably becomes more difficult past the age of 30, the likelihood of converting to regular employment may still be enhanced in older age, for example, by acquiring professional qualifications.

Based on the above, JILPT then conducted a “Questionnaire survey on work and lives five years ago and now” in 2015. This was a monitor survey of workers who had been in non-regular employment at the age of 30-39 five years earlier. The aim of this report is to clarify the realities of converting from non-regular to regular employment in mid-prime-age (*) in more detail by re-analyzing the national questionnaire survey and analyzing the monitor questionnaire survey.

(*While the expression “mid-prime-age” has been used to refer to the 35-44 age bracket in the series of related publications, the lower limit of this age bracket has been extended to include ages 30-44 in this report.)

Research Method

  1. Re-analysis of the national questionnaire survey “Questionnaire survey on vocational careers and working styles” (July-August 2013). (Survey of 3,000 men and women aged 25-34 and 7,000 men and women aged 35-44 across the nation, randomly sampled from the Basic Resident Register.)
  2. Analysis of the internet monitor questionnaire survey “Questionnaire survey on work and lives five years ago and now” (December 2015). (Subjects who were “aged 35-44 at the time of the survey” and had been “non-regular workers five years earlier” were sampled by means of a screening survey. Of these, a total of 4,500 subjects were surveyed, consisting of 1,500 men, 1,500 women who had been unmarried five years earlier, and 1,500 women who had been married five years earlier.)

Main Findings

Of workers who had been in non-regular employment at age 30-39 five years earlier, the rate of conversion to regular employment tended to be higher if they were relatively younger, if they had reached a higher education level, if their first job was in regular employment, if their working hours were similar to those of regular employment five years earlier, and if they had been in non-regular employment against their wishes (“involuntary non-regular employees”) five years earlier. After taking these factors into account, the data were examined further to find factors that increase the rate of conversion to regular employment. This led to the discovery that the conversion rate was higher if the subjects had been studying for vocational qualifications over the previous five years, if they had used Hello Work (the Japanese public employment service), or if they had received a proposal or invitation from their employer for promotion to regular employment (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Rate of conversion to regular employment in terms of activity and experience over the previous five years
figure1

  • Source: Data from Table 1-4-3 of Research Report No.188.
  • Note: For females, both “unmarried” and “married” refer to the marital status five years earlier.
  1. Males, those with a higher educational level, and those who had been involuntary non-regular employees five years earlier were more likely to study for vocational qualifications. Compared to all workers converting to regular employment, those who converted to regular employment after studying were more likely to be male, relatively young, and more highly educated. In terms of their wages before and after conversion, they tended to have a higher rate of increase compared to all workers converting to regular employment. On investigating their actual qualification status, a large proportion of them had “qualifications related to their present job”; in many cases, they were thought to have stepped up from non-regular employment by acquiring qualifications in the fields such as welfare and machine operations.
  2. Males, unmarried females, relatively young respondents, and those whose first jobs were in regular employment were more likely to use Hello Work, as were those who had been involuntary non-regular employees five years earlier. Compared to all workers converting to regular employment, those who converted to regular employment after using Hello Work were more likely to have lower educational levels or be involuntary non-regular employees; they were also more likely to be employed by small and medium enterprises after the conversion. To use Hello Work as a pathway for changing job also had a positive effect on the rate of conversion to regular employment. However, perhaps because many of these converted to regular employment in small and medium enterprises, their wage levels after changing jobs were also confirmed to be on the low side.
  3. Males, relatively young respondents, those with a higher educational level and those who had not been involuntary non-regular employees five years earlier were more likely to receive proposals or invitations for promotion to regular employment. Compared to all workers converting to regular employment, those who converted to regular employment after this were more likely to have higher educational levels, have had a first job in regular employment, and not to have been involuntary non-regular employees. On investigating differences in the mechanisms for external job change and internal promotion in connection with this, the mechanism for external job change could be understood as an action aimed at career advancement by involuntary non-regular workers, accompanied by a downward shift in corporate scale and a degree of risk. By contrast, the mechanism for internal promotion could be understood as “a process of internalization” accompanied by training and assessment of non-regular workers, as typically seen in large corporations.
  4. Next, the data from male respondents were analyzed to see how the realities of conversion to regular employment differed between those who had been “involuntary non-regular employees” and those who had not. The result was that no great difference was seen in the rate of conversion to regular employment or factors that cause it to rise. On the other hand, conversion to regular employment by “involuntary non-regular employees” was often accompanied by a change of occupations, a change of industries, and a downward shift in corporate scale (Figure 2). In terms of job level and hourly wage, meanwhile, this can be understood as an elevation from a relatively low level among non-regular employment to a relatively low level among regular employment. But in terms of satisfaction with life in general and future life prospects, any original difference in satisfaction and prospects between those who were “involuntary non-regular employees” and those who were not seems to have been largely eliminated by conversion to regular employment.
  5. The marriage rate of males who converted to regular employment at a relatively late age was lower than that of males who had always been regular employees. Here, even if wages and household economy are taken into account, the age of conversion to regular employment still had a negative effect on the marriage rate. Yet, because the marriage rate of males who converted to regular employment at a later age was lower, their ratio of having children was also lower. Males who converted to regular employment at a relatively late age were also less satisfied with life than males who had always been regular employees. This has something to do with the wages and low marriage rate for males who converted to regular employment at a relatively late age. The analysis revealed that, for older males in non-regular employment, lifestyle indicators – marriage, birth of children and life satisfaction – still do not equate with those of males who have always been regular employees, even if they convert to regular employment.
  6. The analysis next focused on how the workplace situation when working as a regular employee affects subsequent changes to non-regular employment. The results clearly revealed that different factors prompt the shift to non-regular employment, depending on gender, age group and marital status. Specifically, it was confirmed that, for younger workers, a shift to non-regular employment is prompted by the fact that annual leave cannot be taken, as well as workplace bullying and psychological disorders caused by workplace environment; for males in mid-prime-age, a shift to non-regular employment is caused by involuntary job loss rather than by problems of the workplace environment; for unmarried females in mid-prime-age, a shift to non-regular employment is caused by workplace bullying and psychological disorders; and for married females in mid-prime-age, the shift is triggered by an inability to take annual leave.

Figure 2. Rates in change of occupations, change of industries, and downward shift in corporate scale among males converting to regular employment
Figure2

Click to expand

  • Source: Data from Table 4-4-1 to 4-4-3 of Research Report No.188.
  • Note: In the shift in corporate scale, “other” refers to a shift to or from a government agency.

Policy Implications

  1. There is a conspicuously low rate of conversion to regular employment among workers with lower educational levels and workers whose first job was in non-regular employment. Priority should be placed on supporting these, as a basis for government policy on job stability and vocational ability development.
  2. Measures to support the acquisition of vocational qualifications are required. Since converting to regular employment by acquiring vocational qualifications leads to a higher rate of wage increase, these support measures could be positioned as key efforts to promote a conversion to regular employment by non-regular workers in mid-prime-age. However, since workers with higher educational levels tend to make efforts to acquire vocational qualifications, energy must also be invested in motivating a wider-ranging group, including those with lower educational levels. In this respect, even for workers with lower educational levels, acquiring vocational qualifications is sufficiently effective in raising the rate of conversion to regular employment. In order to implement this support effectively, we must continue research to identify vocational and industrial sectors where workers are converting to regular employment by acquiring vocational qualifications.
  3. When using Hello Work, the possibility of converting to regular employment is significantly higher, in statistical terms, than when using other paths for changing jobs, although wage levels after the conversion may not be so high. This may be because the employer after the conversion is often a small or medium enterprise. Hello Work could be seen as a safety net in the labor market, and should play a pivotal role in promoting a conversion to regular employment among non-regular workers in mid-prime-age. But while workers whose first job was in regular employment tended to use Hello Work, it is also important to attract those whose first job was in non-regular employment, as using this medium would enhance their rate of conversion to regular employment.
  4. Internal promotion, mainly in large corporations, is accompanied by training and assessment of non-regular workers. As a precondition for encouraging this kind of conversion, therefore, a style of personnel management focusing on training non-regular employees should be widely adopted. The Career Development Promotion Grant including programs for “Conversion to regular employment” as well as “Human resource development” and “Improvement of working conditions,” is currently the most representative measure for encouraging internal promotion. Attention will need to be focused on the fact that human resource development, improvement of working conditions, and conversion to regular employment are all in a complementary relationship, when designing systems related to non-regular employment, applying and reviewing subsidies, and so on.
  5. It should be understood that involuntary non-regular employees in mid-prime-age often find themselves in “involuntary” situations, in terms not only of their employment form but also of their job content such as their occupations and industries. In its “Plan for Realization of Conversion to Regular Employment and Improved Working Conditions of Non-regular Employment,” the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has set a targeted value for reducing the ratio of involuntary non-regular employees. To meet that value, the search for suitable jobs should not be limited to the job content preferred by the person in question, but should be done considering trends in the labor market – in other words, ensuring appropriate changes of occupations and industries when supporting conversions to regular employment. In that sense, links with career counseling, competence development and job matching will be indispensable.
  6. It goes without saying that conversions to regular employment by all non-regular workers in mid-prime-age should be encouraged. Focusing primarily on male non-regular workers who wish to marry and have children, however, it would be preferable for them to convert to regular employment as early as possible. With mid-prime-age involuntary non-regular employees in mind, the need to ensure appropriate changes of occupations and industries when supporting conversions to regular employment has already been mentioned above. If we are to expedite conversions to regular employment, that idea also needs to be applied when supporting conversions to regular employment among young non-regular workers.
  7. Factors that prompt workers to shift from regular to non-regular employment differ depending on gender, age group and marital status. It is important to remember this fact when attempting to curb the increase of non-regular workers in mid-prime-age. When both male and female workers shift to non-regular employment while still young, their decisions tend to be impacted by an inability to take annual leave, as well as bullying and psychological disorders in the workplace. These findings prove the rationality of monitoring of overwork and the disclosure of workplace information during hiring activity, in employment measures for young people in recent years. Meanwhile, when mid-prime-age males shift to non-regular employment, their decision tends to be influenced by the involuntary loss of their jobs. Among the measures required for them would be to provide intensive support for finding jobs as regular employees immediately after leaving their jobs. Another measure would be to provide continuous support to prevent them from working in non-regular employment for long years.

Policy Contribution

This research is expected to provide useful data for the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in promoting its “Plan for Realization of Conversion to Regular Employment and Improved Working Conditions of Non-regular Employment.” It will also be useful in ascertaining factors that impact the ways of working and living of those with unstable employment in the “employment ice age” generation.

Main Text (only available in Japanese)

  • JILPT Research Report No.188 / Whole text (PDF: 9.9MB)

    If it takes too long to download the whole text, please access each file separately.

    • Cover – Preface – Authors – Contents (PDF: 575KB)
    • Part I Analysis (PDF:1.9MB)
      • Introduction Issues and overview
      • Chapter 1 Causative factors and patterns of conversion to regular employment
      • Chapter 2 How does internal promotion differ from external job change?
      • Chapter 3 Hiring routes and job change results of non-regular workers – Conversion to regular employment, wages, and job satisfaction
      • Chapter 4 Conversion to regular employment by involuntary non-regular workers
      • Chapter 5 How conversation to regular employment impacts marriage, having or not having children, and life satisfaction among men
      • Chapter 6 Conversion from regular to non-regular employment – With focus on workplace environments during regular employment
      • Conclusion Implications
    • Part II Appendices (PDF:8.2MB)
      • Appendix 1 Statistical tables – Previous career of non-regular workers in mid-prime-age and subsequent impact of the initial career
      • Appendix 2 “Questionnaire survey on vocational careers and ways of working” questionnaire
      • Appendix 3 “Questionnaire survey on work and lives five years ago and now” questionnaire

    Research Categories

    Project Research: “Research on Strategic Labor/Employment Policies for Non-regular Workers”

    Subtopic: “Survey research on diverse ways of working in both regular and non-regular employment”

    Research Period

    FY2016

    Authors

    Koji TAKAHASHI
    Vice Senior Researcher, JILPT
    Yasutaka FUKUI
    Project Assistant Professor, Institute of Gerontology, University of Tokyo
    Tomohiko MORIYAMA
    Research Assistant Professor, Faculty of Economics, Shimonoseki City University
    Sumire KUROKAWA
    Research Assistant, JILPT

    Related Research Results

    Related Information

    Downloading Adobe Readeropen a new window To view PDF files, you will need Adobe Reader Software installed on your computer.The Adobe Reader can be downloaded from this banner.