WASHINGTON, D.C.--Many people dream of taking a part-time job and spending more time at home. For most, the double whammy of lower income and no fringe benefits keeps their nose to the grindstone. But according to a new study, scientists are one of the few groups of professional and managerial workers for whom part-time work can actually pay--if they are lucky enough to find it.

Anybody who has flipped burgers or sold shoes part-time knows about the low wages and lack of health coverage. "Part-time work is probably the last basis on which employers can discriminate," says Arne Kalleberg, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. But Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington, wondered whether professionals or managers can avoid the part-time penalty. To find out, she divided U.S. Census data from 1987 to 1993, which counted 456 professions, into 51 "occupational groups." Then she computed an "attractiveness" score for each one, based on the earnings of part-time workers, their wages relative to full-time staff in the same profession, and the availability of benefits.

Registered nurses and scientists top the list, Hartmann reported on 18 February at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes ScienceNOW. Whereas most part-time professional or managerial workers earn 26% less per hour than their full-time colleagues, scientists and nurses were the only groups in which the hourly wages for part-time work were slightly higher. "There are often shortages of nurses and computer scientists that are likely to account for their relatively generous part-time compensation," Hartmann explains. On the flip side, part-time jobs in science and engineering appear difficult to come by. Although 29% of all workers in managerial and professional occupations say they would prefer a part-time job, only 4% of scientists and engineers actually have part-time positions.