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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1999  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/06/1999   
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Contents >> Work >> Under-utilised Labour: Men and Women wanting work

Underutilised Labour: Men and Women wanting work

In September 1998, among people not fully employed there were more women than men wanting work - 1.2 million women compared to 909,000 men. However, among those wanting work, a lower proportion of women were part of the labour force (50% of women compared to 71% of men).

Paid work provides many benefits: including financial independence, extra family income, opportunities for expanding social networks, developing skills, enhancing personal status and contributing to the community. Circumstances such as ill health can prevent people from having a job, and not all people of working age need paid employment for financial reasons. However, one of the more pressing social issues, particularly affecting those who do not have other means to support themselves, is that there are large numbers of people whose needs and interests in obtaining work are not satisfied.

Unemployment provides a measure of people at risk of being in financial or social distress. However, while serving to identify those in greatest need of support, it does not provide a complete picture of the extent to which people may want jobs. For example, there are many people with part-time jobs who want to work longer hours. There are also many people, such as students and mothers with young children, who want a paid job to suit their circumstances but who are not actively looking for work. Taking this broader perspective, this review provides a profile of men and women of working age (those aged 15-64 years) with clearly expressed interests in finding work. It also provides a broader view of the extent of under-utilised labour in Australia than that obtained from counting unemployed people alone.

People wanting work

Through its program of monthly labour force and supplementary surveys, the ABS collects a range of information about the labour market activity and work aspirations of people aged 15 years and over. From these sources, this review identifies three groups of people of working age (defined as those aged 15-64 years), excluding those already fully employed (defined below), with clearly expressed interests in wanting work; namely the underemployed, the unemployed and those marginally attached to the labour force.

Fully employed - people who work in full-time jobs (35 hours or more per week) and those in part-time jobs in which they did not want to work longer hours.

Underemployed - people who usually work less than 35 hours per week who want to work more hours.

Unemployed - those who were not employed during the survey reference week, but who had actively looked for work in the last four weeks and were available to start work.

Marginally attached to the labour force - people not in the labour force who wanted to work and were available to start work but were not actively looking for work, or were actively looking for work but unable to start work within four weeks.

Persons in the labour force, the economically active population, are those who are either employed or unemployed.

EMPLOYMENT PROFILE OF PEOPLE AGED 15-64 YEARS, SEPTEMBER 1998

Men
Women
Total



'000
%
'000
%
'000
%

In the labour force
    Employed(a)
4,834.9
76.8
3,765.2
60.4
8,600.2
68.7
    Fully employed
4,600.1
73.1
3,454.0
55.4
8,054.1
64.3
    Underemployed
200.6
3.2
300.5
4.8
501.1
4.0
    Unemployed
444.6
7.1
319.3
5.1
763.9
6.1
Not in the labour force
Marginally attached
263.8
4.2
629.7
10.1
893.5
7.1
Not available and not actively looking for work(b)
749.1
11.9
1,516.3
24.3
2,265.4
18.1
Total(c)
6,292.5
100.0
6,230.5
100.0
12,522.9
100.0

(a) Includes people temporarily stood down from work.
(b) Includes persons permanently unable to work.
(c) Includes a small number of people not in the labour force for whom attachment to the labour force was not determined.

Source: Unpublished data, Labour Force Survey, September 1998; and Survey of Persons Not in the Labour Force, September 1998.


Numbers of people who want work
Most men of working age have paid jobs and most are fully employed (either in full-time jobs or in part-time jobs in which they do not want to work longer hours). In September 1998, 77% of all men aged 15-64 were employed - 73% were fully employed. Among women, 60% were employed and 55% were fully employed.

Three groups of people with stated interests in obtaining paid work can be identified - the unemployed, those marginally attached to the labour force and the underemployed. Of these groups, the unemployed and the underemployed are regarded as being part of the labour force; that is, they are among the economically active population.

In September 1998, there were 763,900 people aged 15-64 years who were unemployed, 6% of all people aged 15-64. (This proportion is not to be confused with the official unemployment rate, which measures the number of unemployed people aged 15 years and over against the economically active population - 8.0% (seasonally adjusted) in September 1998.) Of all unemployed people, 58% were men, and men were more likely than women to be unemployed (7% and 5% respectively).1 People aged 15-24 years, were more likely to be unemployed than those in older age groups (12% of men and 10% of women aged 15-24 were unemployed compared to 5% and 3% of those aged 45-64 years).

The other major group of people wanting work (893,500, in September 1998, of whom 70% were women) were not economically active, but classified as being marginally attached to the labour force. These people are not recognised as being unemployed because they are either not actively looking for work but would accept a job if the right one came along (93%) or, were actively looking for work but not available to commence work within four weeks (the remaining 7%). Overall, many people marginally attached to the labour force did not have short-term intentions of actively looking for work. The September 1998 Survey of Persons Not in the Labour Force showed that 25% of all people who were marginally attached to the labour force (while ready to start a job if the right one came along) did not intend to look for work within 12 months - a further 21% were not sure if they would or not.

The third group of people identified as wanting work, the underemployed, are among those in part-time jobs. In September 1998, there were 501,100 people (60% were women) in part-time jobs who wanted to work longer hours. Those who were underemployed represented 23% of all people in part-time jobs and 4% of all people aged 15-64.

Taking the three groups together, there were more women than men wanting work - 1.2 million women compared to 909,000 men. However, reflecting traditional differences in the roles of men and women, a lower proportion of women (50% compared to 71% of men) in these groups were part of the economically active population. Women were also more likely than men to be neither available to work nor looking for work (24% compared to 12% of men).

PROPORTION OF PEOPLE IN DIFFERENT AGE GROUPS WANTING WORK, SEPTEMBER 1998

15-24 years
25-44 years
45-64 years



Men
Women
Men
Women
Men
Women
%
%
%
%
%
%

Unemployed
11.8
9.5
6.2
4.8
5.2
2.8
Underemployed
6.4
7.5
2.5
4.5
2.0
3.6
Marginally attached(a)
9.7
10.8
2.0
12.1
3.6
6.8
Total wanting work
27.9
27.8
10.8
21.4
10.7
13.2

Total persons in age group ('000)
1,356.3
1,302.1
2,857.9
2,888.4
2,078.3
2,039.9

(a) Excludes a small number of people for whom marginal attachment to the labour force was not determined.

Source: Labour Force Survey (microfiche), Persons Not in the Labour Force, September 1998 (cat. no. 6220.0)


Differences by age
The extent to which men and women not fully employed want work and actively seek it is affected by their life circumstances, as their needs for income, giving care to other family members, and personal fulfilment change. A broad view of such differences can be seen among people in different age groups.

In general, the likelihood of men and women wanting work tends to decline with increasing age. In September 1998, 28% of men and 28% of women aged 15-24 wanted work. Among men and women aged 45-64 years, on the other hand, these proportions declined to 11% and 13% respectively.

For both men and women, the proportions who were unemployed and underemployed decreased with age. However, the extent to which men and women were marginally attached to the labour force diverged among the group of people most likely to have younger children - those aged 25-44 years. Only 2% of men aged 25-44 were marginally attached to the labour force compared with 12% of women.

The mix of reasons given for not looking for work by women marginally attached to the labour force - among those who would start a job if one was available - highlights that a major consideration for many women relates to their child care and family responsibilities. Of the 598,700 women aged 15-64 wanting work but not actively looking for it, 47% gave this as their main reason for not looking for work. The relatively high proportion of young people who were marginally attached to the labour force corresponds with many of them undertaking full-time studies. This observation is supported by the fact that many people ready to start a job stated that the main reason they were not actively looking for work was because they were attending an educational institution (98,300 men and 90,300 women).

PERSONS AGED 15-64 WANTING WORK, REPORTED DIFFICULTIES IN FINDING/LOOKING FOR WORK, 1998

Main difficulty in finding work
Main reason for not looking for work


Unemployed(a)
Underemployed(b)
Marginally attached(c)



Selected main difficulty/reason
Men
Women
Men
Women
Men
Women
Discouraged
Jobseekers(d)
%
%
%
%
%
%
(yes or no)

Lacked necessary skills/education/work experience
20.0
26.1
14.3
15.1
1.1*
3.6
yes
Considered too young or too old by employers
16.2
15.5
10.1
9.6
3.7
3.5
yes
Difficulties with language or ethnic background
1.4
3.7
2.4*
0.8*
1.3*
1.2*
yes
No vacancies in line of work/at all
22.5
15.5
40.3
33.4
5.0
3.5
yes
Too many applicants
13.8
13.7
10.0
9.0
. .
. .
. .
Travel/transport problems
7.3
4.5
4.0
3.4
. .
. .
. .
Own ill health/disability
7.7
3.2
3.8*
0.9*
18.5
8.0
no
Child care, other family responsibilities
0.4*
3.8
0.7*
3.0
7.0
47.1
no
Attending educational institution
. .
. .
. .
. .
41.6
15.1
no

Total persons ('000)
417.8
277.6
130.2
159.3
236.1
598.7

(a) Persons who were actively looking for work, at July 1998.
(b) Persons in part-time jobs who were actively looking for extra hours, at September 1998.
(c) Persons who wanted to work and were available to start work within four weeks but were not actively looking for work, at September 1998.
(d) This column identifies those among the marginally attached who, from their main reason for not looking for work are classified as being discouraged jobseekers.

Source: Unpublished data, Survey of Job Search Experience of Unemployed Persons, July 1998; Survey of Underemployed Workers, September 1998 and Survey of Persons Not in the Labour Force, September 1998.


Barriers to finding work among the unemployed and underemployed
For people in the labour force wanting work (the unemployed and under-employed), the limited supply of jobs is a key reason for not being able to find work. However, the reasons people wanting work give as their main difficulty in getting a job differ according to their individual circumstances. Barriers to finding paid work can include factors related to personal capabilities, ill health, and to various forms of discrimination.

Of those unemployed, men were more likely to attribute their difficulty to the state of the job market - no vacancies in their line of work or no vacancies at all (23% compared to 16%) - whereas women were more likely to attribute their difficulty to their own lack of skills (26% compared to 20%). Both men and women were equally likely to see the level of competition as their main difficulty in finding a job - too many applicants for the available jobs (both 14%).

Underemployed men and women were less likely than unemployed people to report personal capabilities as their main reason for not finding work. However, this could be expected, as these people were already in employment.

PROPORTIONS OF MEN AND WOMEN AGED 15-64 WANTING WORK, 1988 TO 1998

Unemployed



Marginally attached



Underemployed



Source: Labour Force Surveys (microfiche) and Persons Not in the Labour Force, September 1988 (cat. no. 6220.0).


Discouraged jobseekers
Some of the people marginally attached to the labour force (70,600 women and 26,400 men) did not actively look for work, because they believed they would not find a job. Men who were discouraged jobseekers (a greater proportion of whom were aged 55-64 years - 51% compared to 30% of women) were more likely to be discouraged because of perceived job shortages or because they felt they would be discriminated against because of their age.

Responses to changing economic conditions
Changes in the proportions of people unemployed (or, as more commonly described, changes in unemployment rates) and in the numbers of discouraged jobseekers (for both measures see Australian Social Trends 1999, Work - National summary tables), provide sensitive indicators of the health of the economy.

As graphically illustrated by the changes that occurred during the last economic recession, during the early 1990s, unemployment levels among men were particularly sensitive to changing economic conditions. In contrast, the changes in the proportions of people who were marginally attached to the labour force and underemployed (the groups in which women predominate) were comparatively small.

Nevertheless, as indicated by the greater upward shift in the proportions of women classified as being marginally attached to the labour force during the recession, it appears that women who want work have a greater tendency than men to move out of the labour force during periods when the over-supply of labour is greatest. The different movements in proportions of men and women identified as being unemployed and marginally attached to the labour force during the last recession may, in part, reflect decisions within couple families as to who should take the most active steps in seeking to provide for the family.


Endnotes

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1999, Labour Force Australia, April 1999, cat. no. 6203.0, ABS, Canberra.



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