Employment plays a significant role in the lives of many Australians. An individual who begins full-time work in their 20s will likely spend approximately 70,000 hours at work over the next 40 years.

This page considers aspects of employment and unemployment, including experiences by age and sex, the impact of education on employment outcomes, full-time and part-time employment, perceptions of employment and experiences of leaving the workforce.

Where available, seasonally adjusted Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Labour Force Survey data has been used.

See Employment trends for definitions of employment measures such as employment rate, unemployment rate and labour force participation rate.

Employment by age and sex

Different groups within the labour force, such as those characterised by age and sex, have different employment experiences. These differences contribute to aggregate changes in the overall employment rate.

In Australia, the employment rate of the working-age population (aged 15–64) has followed a general upward trend since the late 1970s. It experienced declines resulting from recessions in the early 1980s and 1990s and the global financial crisis (ABS 2018a).

In December 2018, the female employment rate was 70%, the highest level ever recorded for females and continuing a long-run trend of increasing female participation in the labour force. Male employment peaked at 83% in 1981, and was 79% in December 2018 (ABS 2018a).

The employment rate of people aged 65 and over has trended upwards in recent decades. In the late 1990s, 6% of people aged 65 and over were employed (including those aged 65 and over not in the labour force). For men aged 65 and over, 9.5% were employed in the late 1990s (including men aged 65 and over not in the labour force), compared with 3.3% of women (including women aged 65 and over not in the labour force). On the same reasoning, at the end of 2018, 14% of those aged 65 and over were employed (18% of men and 10% of women) (ABS 2018a).  

Young people in the labour market

The Australian youth labour market is categorised by high participation rates and high unemployment rates. This section considers the experiences of employed and unemployed people aged 15–24 (called ‘youth’).

Australia has one of the highest youth labour market participation rates across all Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries (OECD 2018). For youth in full-time education, the participation rate has increased over the past 30 years, from an average of 35% in 1987 to 51% in 2018. For youth not in full-time education, the participation rate has decreased slightly, from 88% in 1986 to 86% in 2018 (ABS 2018a).

The youth unemployment rate fell by 8.9% between December 2017 and December 2018 (12.3% and 11.2% respectively) (ABS 2018a). Nonetheless, over recent decades the unemployment rate for those aged 15–24 has been more than twice that of the total unemployment rate. Many factors may contribute to this high rate, including that youth, on average, may have less skills and experience than older counterparts. It is also worth noting that approximately 50% of those aged 15–24 are attending full-time education (ABS 2018b). This is encouraging, given that higher educational attainment ultimately leads to more favourable labour market outcomes.

Some people are not engaged in education, employment or training (often referred to as NEET). NEET youth may be susceptible to long-term unemployment and disadvantage. In 2018, 9.4% of females and 8.6% of males aged 15–24 were NEET (ABS 2019a). The rate of NEET youth increased with age—in 2018, 5.5% of people aged 15–19 were NEET, compared with 12% of those aged 20–24 (ABS 2019a).

Youth NEET rates also differ by remoteness, with higher rates observed in more remote areas. Reasons for these regional differences include the concentration of education or employment opportunities and higher mobility in major cities (OECD 2016). In 2018:

  • 7.8% of youth in Major cities were NEET
  • 11.6% of youth in Inner regional areas were NEET
  • 14.3% of youth in Outer regional areas were NEET
  • 9% of youth in Remote and very remote areas were NEET (ABS 2018c).

Education and employment

On average, people with a higher level of educational attainment are more likely to be employed (Figure 1). The employment rate of people aged 20–64 whose highest qualification was Year 10 and below was essentially steady between 2015 and 2018 (52.2% and 52.1% respectively). By comparison, the employment rate of people whose highest qualification was a Bachelor degree rose marginally from 82.2% in 2015 to 84.3% in 2018 (ABS 2019b).

Working hours

Australia has one of the highest shares of part-time workers across all OECD countries (OECD 2018). Between December 2008 and December 2018, the share of people who work full time has fallen by 4.2%, from 72% to 69% of the overall employment share. Over the same period, the share of people who worked part time has risen by 11%, from 28% to 31% of the overall employment share (ABS 2018a). These patterns, which reflect longer-term trends, could be caused by factors including the economy’s industrial composition change, with an increasing proportion of workers being employed in the services sector (excluding agriculture, mining, manufacturing, forestry and fishing). Changes in full-time and part-time employment shares may also be caused by the increase in the labour force participation rate of females (AIHW 2017).

For many people, working part time enables them to balance work with other activities, including caring responsibilities (for children, parents or those with disability). It also helps older Australians to stay in work while transitioning to retirement, and enables students to work part time while studying full time.

 

Full-time, part-time and casual employment definitions

Full-time employment refers to people who usually work 35 or more hours per week, plus those who usually work less than 35 hours, but worked for 35 hours or more in the reference week for the ABS Labour Force Survey (ABS 2018d).

Part-time employment refers to those who usually work less than 35 hours per week, and did so in the reference week for the ABS Labour Force Survey (ABS 2018d).

Casual employment is often characterised by no set or regular weekly hours, lack of paid leave and no notice period for ending employment. However, casual employees may work full-time or part-time hours.  

Perceptions of work

Issues such as employment satisfaction, stress and security can have substantial impact on a person’s wellbeing (Wilkins & Lass 2018). For those aged 15 and over, employee perceptions of their employment remained relatively stable from 2005–06 to 2015–16. Of note:

  • employee views of job flexibility and autonomy at work (including flexibility of working hours, choosing what to do at work, having a say about what happens at work, and freedom to decide when to do work) remained constant
  • the perception of job security decreased, including the future of work in a current job and the employer still being in business in 5 years
  • employees noted a decrease in high levels of stress over the 10-year period, but an increase in their perception that work is intense and that they must work fast
  • employees were more likely to agree they used many of their skills and abilities in their current job and that it provided them with variety and required them to take initiative (Wilkins & Lass 2018).

Retirement

As working Australians age, they will be faced with decisions surrounding retirement from the labour force. The ABS defines retired people as those who have retired from work or retired from looking for work, and do not intend to recommence or look for work in the future (ABS 2017).

In 2016–17, 38% of people aged 45 and over were retired from the labour force. Fifteen per cent of those aged 45–64 were retired, compared with 76% of those aged 65 and over (ABS 2017). For retirees whose last job was less than 20 years ago, the most commonly cited reason for retiring was reaching retirement age, or being eligible for superannuation or a pension. Government pension or allowance was the most common source of income for retirees (ABS 2017).

It should be noted that the status of ‘retired’ does not entitle a person to a Centrelink pension; age cut-offs are used instead. As of July 2017, the minimum age to access an Age Pension was 65 years and 6 months, depending on birthdate (DHS 2018).

Where do I go for more information?

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2017. Retirement and retirement intentions, Australia. ABS cat. no. 6238.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2018a. Labour Force, Australia, December 2018. ABS cat. no. 6202.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2018b. Labour Force, Australia, Detailed—Electronic Delivery, Dec 2018. ABS cat. no. 6291.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2018c. Survey of Education and Work, May 2018. ABS cat. no. 6227.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2018d. Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods. ABS cat. no. 6102.0.55.001. Canberra ABS.

ABS 2019a. Survey of Education and Work, May 2018, customised report. ABS cat. no. 6227.0. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2019b. Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, Quarterly, Feb 2019. ABS cat. no. 6291.0.55.003 Canberra: ABS.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2017. Australia’s welfare 2017. Australia’s welfare series no. 13. AUS 214. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

DHS (Department of Human Services) 2018. Age Pension: age rules. Canberra: Department of Human Services. Viewed 28 February 2019.

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) 2016. Investing in Youth: Australia. Paris: OECD.

OECD 2018. Labour Market Statistics: Labour force statistics by sex and age. OECD. Viewed 16 November 2018.

Wilkins R & Lass I 2018. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: selected findings from waves 1 to 16. Mebourne: Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic and Social Research.

Alternative text for figures

Figure 1: Employment rate by level of educational attainment, 2008 and 2018

The vertical bar chart shows the employment rate by level of educational attainment in both 2015 and 2018. Across both years, those whose highest qualification was a Postgraduate Degree had the highest employment rates at 85.4% in 2015 and 85.8% in 2018.