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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2004  
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Contents >> Work >> Mature age workers

Paid Work: Mature Age Workers

In 2003, close to a third (32%) of people participating in the labour force were aged 45-64 years, up from 24% in 1983.



Over the past decade, much social and economic debate has focused on the issues associated with Australia’s ageing population. Between 2011 and 2030, the large generation born between 1946 and 1965 (known as the baby boomers) will be aged 65 years and over. Such a large number of people set to retire from Australia’s workforce over the next few decades brings the possibility of a shortage of labour to meet future demands (see Australian Social Trends 2004, Scenarios for Australia’s ageing population, pp. 16-21). In recent years, the retention of mature age workers in the labour force has been highlighted as a potential solution to this issue,(SEE ENDNOTE 1) with certain policy goals focusing on facilitating these workers’ participation in the workforce. (SEE ENDNOTE 2) This article focuses on people aged 45-64 years, as those most likely to move from the workforce into retirement over the next two decades.

As well as contributing to the labour force, the retention of mature age workers can benefit employers through the skills, experience and maturity that such workers offer. There are also many reasons why mature age workers might choose to defer their retirement, and, with healthier ageing, more workers are able to make this choice. Paid work generally results in higher income than is available in retirement and often provides attachment to the community and a sense of self worth. In addition, prolonging the time spent in paid work has the potential to improve retirement income by increasing the time to build up superannuation. And, with increased life expectancy, many mature age workers are planning for a retirement that may last as long as 20 or 30 years. Mature age workers are also more likely to face certain financial pressures than in the past. For example, they are more likely to be divorced or to be supporting dependent children (because of the trends to have children later in life and for young people to undertake further study after school).

Since the 1990s, a range of legislative and policy changes in the areas of social security and superannuation have been put in place to remove incentives for early retirement. These include gradually increasing the age at which women can access the age pension, ongoing increases to the minimum age for accessing superannuation benefits, and the introduction of incentives for workers who stay on in employment beyond the Age Pension age (e.g. the Pension Bonus Scheme).


LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION BY AGE - NOVEMBER 2003
GRAPH - LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION BY AGE - NOVEMBER 2003


LABOUR FORCE CHARACTERISTICS

Most of the data in this article are from the monthly ABS Labour Force Survey (LFS), although some data on occupation are drawn from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing. There may be small differences between LFS estimates and Census data, reflecting differences in collection methodologies.

In this article, mature age workers are employed people aged 45-64 years.



LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION AND AGE

Some people retire or leave the labour force well before their sixties. This is reflected by lower labour force participation rates for men and women from their forties and fifties onwards. In November 2003, most men (around 90%) aged 40-49 years were participating in the labour force, as were around three-quarters of women in this age group. Participation rates were lower for older age groups. For those aged 60-64 years, the participation rates for men and women were 51% and 27% respectively. The low participation rate for women in their early sixties is consistent with women being eligible for the age pension before the age of 65 years. In addition, many women time the commencement of their retirement to coincide with that of their (often older) partner.

That said, the proportion of people in the labour force aged 45-64 years has increased over the past two decades. In 2003, people in this age group made up almost a third (32%) of the labour force, compared with 24% in 1983. This increase not only reflects larger numbers of people entering this age group as the baby boomers age, but also changes in labour force participation over the period. People aged 45-64 years were more likely than in the past to be labour force participants. Participation rates for this group increased from 56% to 68% between 1983 and 2003. This increase has been driven largely by the increased participation of women, reflecting a range of social changes, including greater acceptance of, and opportunities for, women in the workforce generally (for more information see Australian Social Trends 2003, Changes in labour force participation across generations, pp. 134-138).

CHARACTERISTICS OF MATURE AGE WORKERS

In November 2003, there were 3.2 million mature age workers (i.e. employed people aged 45-64 years), making up one-third of all employed people. Around 44% of these workers were women, a similar proportion to that for all employed people (45%). Just over a quarter (26%) of mature age workers were employed part-time, compared with 28% of all employed people. However, both male and female mature age workers are more likely to work part-time as they approach retirement age.


PROPORTION OF MATURE AGE WORKERS(a) WORKING PART-TIME - NOVEMBER 2003
GRAPH - PROPORTION OF MATURE AGE WORKERS(a) WORKING PART-TIME - NOVEMBER 2003


Men are generally less likely to work part-time than women, and this is true of mature age workers. In November 2003, 11% of male mature age workers were employed part-time compared with 45% of their female counterparts. The proportion of men working part-time increased with age from 8% of 45-49 year olds to 21% of 60-64 year olds. For women, the proportion working part-time was close to 45% for ages 45-59 years, increasing to 57% for those aged 60-64 years. These higher rates of part-time work as age increases are not only consistent with workers easing their way into retirement, but also reflect difficulties encountered by 60-64 year olds in obtaining full-time work.

WHERE ARE MATURE AGE WORKERS EMPLOYED?

As the labour force ages and baby boomers retire, those industries and occupations which have higher concentrations of mature age workers are the most likely to be affected by the loss of these workers and their knowledge and skills. The November 2003 Labour Force Survey provides up-to-date information on the industries in which people are employed, while the 2001 Census of Population and Housing provides detailed information on occupation. Data from these sources illustrate which industries, and the occupations closely aligned to them, employ proportionally more mature age workers than others.

In November 2003, the Education industry employed the highest proportion of mature age workers, with 47% of people employed in this industry aged 45-64 years. In keeping with this, at the 2001 census, University and vocational education teachers, School teachers and Miscellaneous education professionals were among the occupations with the highest proportions of mature age workers (52%, 42% and 40% respectively).


MATURE AGE WORKERS(a) IN SELECTED INDUSTRIES - NOVEMBER 2003
%

Highest proportions of 45-64 year olds
Education
47.0
Agriculture, forestry and fishing
43.6
Health and community services
42.3
Electricity, gas and water supply
41.8
Transport and storage
39.8
Lowest proportions of 45-64 year olds
Construction
29.7
Finance and insurance
27.0
Cultural and recreational services
24.3
Accommodation, cafes and restaurants
23.0
Retail trade
21.9
All industries
33.1

(a) Employed persons aged 45-64 years.
Source: ABS Labour Force Survey, November 2003.

The Agriculture, forestry and fishing industry employed the next highest proportion of mature age workers in November 2003 (44%). Almost half (48%) of people employed in the associated occupation Farmers and farm managers, were in this age group in 2001. This is consistent with the trend for fewer young people to enter farming as a vocation and with farmers often working beyond the age of 65 years (for more information see Australian Social Trends 2003, Farming families, pp. 45-49).



MATURE AGE WORKERS(a) IN SELECTED OCCUPATION GROUPS - 2001

Selected occupation groups (skill level(b))
%
'000

Managers and administrators (1)
43.5
332.8
Farmers and farm managers
47.9
93.4
General managers and administrators
51.2
46.5
Managers and administrators, nfd
46.3
19.3
Miscellaneous generalist managers
45.6
37.2
Miscellaneous specialist managers
46.1
42.4
Professionals (1)
34.4
520.8
University and vocational education teachers
51.7
29.9
Social welfare professionals
45.0
32.4
School teachers
42.1
107.9
Miscellaneous education professionals
40.2
18.7
Associate professionals (2)
34.5
336.6
Tradespersons and related workers (3)
27.4
279.4
Textile, clothing and related tradespersons
40.8
7.2
Advanced clerical and service workers (3)
35.8
110.8
Intermediate clerical, sales and service workers (4)
29.5
402.9
Intermediate production and transport workers (4)
34.9
233.8
Road and rail transport drivers
43.4
103.0
Intermediate textile, clothing and related machine operators
43.4
11.7
Elementary clerical, sales and service workers (5)
22.8
180.5
Labourers and related workers (5)
31.7
227.6
Cleaners
44.7
81.1

(a) Employed persons aged 45-64 years.
(b) Occupations are based on the Australian Standard Classification of Occupations (ASCO) Second Edition (ABS cat. no. 1220.0), which classifies occupations by skill level ranked from 1 (the highest) to 5 (the lowest).
Source: ABS 2001 Census of Population and Housing.


In November 2003, 42% of people employed in the Health and community services industry were aged 45-64 years, while 45% of people employed as Social welfare professionals were in this age group at the 2001 Census. Similarly, 40% of workers in the Transport and storage industry in November 2003 were mature age workers, while 43% of people employed as Road and rail transport drivers were in this age group in 2001.

Conversely, those industries most likely to employ young workers had the lowest proportions of mature age workers. In 2003, less than a quarter of people employed in the Retail trade, Accommodation, cafes and restaurants, and Cultural and recreational services industries were aged 45-64 years.

Mature age workers generally have skills and experience gained through many years in the workforce. In 2001, many of the occupations with high proportions of mature age workers were those requiring higher skill levels. More than 40% of workers in the broad occupation group of Managers and administrators were aged 45-64 years, accounting for 332,800 employed people. This partly reflects the time it takes to be promoted to many jobs of this kind. Within Professionals, mature age workers accounted for more than 40% of workers in four occupation groups associated with education and social welfare.

Some occupations with lesser skill requirements also contain large numbers of mature age workers. In 2001, 402,900 Intermediate clerical, sales and service workers, 233,800 Intermediate production and transport workers, and 227,600 Labourers and related workers were aged 45-64 years.


SELECTED CHARACTERISTICS OF UNEMPLOYED PERSONS - NOVEMBER 2003

Mature age workers

45-54 years
55-64 years
Total aged 45-64 years
Total labour force(a)
%
%
%
%

Unemployment rate
3.5
3.5
3.5
5.4
Males
3.4
4.0
3.6
5.1
Females
3.6
2.7
3.3
5.7
Proportion of unemployed looking for full-time work
81.4
81.4
81.4
74.2
Males
89.8
88.6
89.3
82.9
Females
72.1
64.9
70.4
64.5
Proportion of unemployed who are long-term unemployed
35.9
48.8
40.2
22.8
Males
41.4
49.8
44.7
28.1
Females
29.6
46.5
33.6
16.9

(a) Aged 15 years and over.
Source: ABS Labour Force Survey, November 2003.





DISCOURAGED JOBSEEKERS(a) - SEPTEMBER 2002
GRAPH - DISCOURAGED JOBSEEKERS(a) - SEPTEMBER 2002




DIFFICULTY FINDING WORK

While some 45-64 year olds choose to retire from the workforce, others may want to work but may not be able to find employment. That said, the unemployment rate for people in this age group tends to be lower than for most other age groups. In November 2003, the unemployment rate for 45-64 year olds was 3.5%, representing 114,000 people in this age group who were looking and available for work. In comparison, the overall unemployment rate was 5.4%.

While the unemployment rate for men and women aged 45-54 years was similar (3.4% and 3.6% respectively) in November 2003, the unemployment rate for men aged 55-64 years (4.0%) was higher than for women in this age group (2.7%). Mature age jobseekers (both male and female) were more likely to be seeking full-time work than the total unemployed population (81% compared with 74%). And, as with the total unemployed population, male mature age jobseekers were more likely to be looking for full-time work than their female counterparts (89% compared with 70%).

While 45-64 year olds have lower unemployment rates than those in the labour force generally, people in this age group often have less success in obtaining work than younger jobseekers and are therefore at risk of remaining unemployed for a long time. To counter some of these issues, government strategies to retain mature age workers in the workforce often focus on supporting unemployed people aged over 45 years to retrain or find work, and on increasing recognition of the contribution mature age workers can make in the workplace.(SEE ENDNOTES 1,3)

In the 12 months to July 2000, people aged 45 years and over were less likely than younger persons to be successful jobseekers (see Australian Social Trends 2002, Searching for work, pp. 136-140). This may reflect outdated skills, competition with younger jobseekers, and high levels of family and financial commitment resulting in less flexibility to change location (see Australian Social Trends 1999, Older jobseekers, pp.114-118). As a result, people in this age group are more likely to remain unemployed for longer periods of time. In November 2003, 23% of all unemployed people were long-term unemployed (i.e. had been unemployed for 52 weeks or more). Among unemployed 45-64 year olds, the proportion was nearly twice as high (40%), while almost a half (49%) of unemployed 55-64 year olds were long-term unemployed.

Consistent with the difficulties people aged 45-64 years may face finding work over a long period of time, they are more likely to become discouraged and drop out of the labour force altogether than people in younger age groups. In September 2002, more than half (53%) of all discouraged jobseekers were aged 45-64 years.

ENDNOTES

1 Department of the Treasury 2004, Australia's Demographic Challenges, Treasury, Canberra.
2 Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) 2002, National Strategy for an Ageing Australia, DoHA, Canberra.
3 Australian National Training Authority (ANTA), 2003, National Strategy for Vocational Education and Training (VET): 2004-2010, ANTA, Brisbane.


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