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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2006  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 20/07/2006   
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Contents >> Work >> Trends in Women's Employment

Trends in Women's Employment

The proportion of women who were employed increased in every age group between 1979 and 2004.

Employment patterns of men and women have changed over the last 25 years. Significantly, the proportion of women who were employed has increased over the period. Changing social attitudes and smaller families have contributed to these changes in women's employment. Greater proportions of women now have higher education qualifications. Education appears to draw women into the workforce by instilling in them more career oriented attitudes and by enhancing their potential wages in the labour market.(EndNote 1) Paid work may also provide women with opportunities for social interaction and job satisfaction.

However, it is women who continue to carry the greater responsibility for caring and other unpaid work, effectively placing them under increased time pressures.(EndNote 2) Women's working patterns may impact on their ability to balance work with other responsibilities.


Employment

The data in this article are annual averages from the monthly Labour Force Survey.

In this article, employed people are those aged 15 years and over who worked during the reference week for pay, profit, commission, payment in kind or without pay in a family business, or who had a job but were not at work.

Full-time employed are those employed persons who usually work 35 hours or more a week (in all jobs) and those who, although usually working less than 35 hours a week, worked 35 hours or more in the reference week.

Part-time employed are those employed persons who usually work less than 35 hours a week (in all jobs) and who either did so during the reference week, or were not at work during the reference week.


CHANGES IN EMPLOYMENT

The proportion of women aged 15 years and over who were employed has steadily increased over the last quarter of a century (from 40% in 1979 to 53% in 2004). Over the same period, the proportion of men who were employed decreased from 74% in 1979 to 68% in 2004. This fall for men may be linked to factors such as fewer jobs available in goods-producing industries, the changing role of men in families and an increasing proportion of men receiving the disability support pension.(EndNote 3)

As a result of the changes to the proportion of men and women who were employed, women now represent a higher proportion of employed people (36% in 1979 compared with 45% in 2004). In 2004, 4.3 million women and 5.4 million men were employed.

The growth in employment for women has been mainly in part-time employment, which may provide opportunities to combine work and other commitments. The proportion of women who were employed part-time increased from 14% of all women in 1979 to 24% in 2004. The proportion of women who were employed full-time also increased (from 26% in 1979 to 29% in 2004).

PROPORTION OF MEN AND WOMEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED(a)
GRAPH: PROPORTION OF MEN AND WOMEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED(a)



WOMEN'S EMPLOYMENT BY AGE

A range of factors influence a woman's decision to seek employment through life cycle stages as well as the type of job she would consider. These factors include age, educational qualifications, family/caring commitments, financial security and the availability of suitable child care and suitable work.

For example, women with very young children may seek part-time employment, as might some older women as they approach retirement. Women with school-aged children may also curtail their labour force participation, but to a lesser degree. Some women may return to, or take up paid employment following separation or divorce.

In the 25 years since 1979, the proportion of women who were employed increased for all age groups. However, the pattern across age groups has changed slightly. In 1979, the proportion of women who were employed was highest among women aged 20–24 years (63%) and women aged 40–44 years (57%). There was also a noticeable trough in the proportion of women who were employed at the prime childbearing years of 25–34 years.

In 2004, this trough was much less marked and had shifted to the age groups between 30 and 39 years, reflecting the trend towards women having children at older ages. This was accompanied by the proportion of women employed peaking for women aged 20–24 years (71%) and for women aged 45–49 years (75%).

In addition to the overall changes in employment, there have been changes in patterns of full-time and part-time employment across age groups. There have been increases in the proportion of women aged 25 years and over in full-time employment, whereas the proportion of women in part-time employment increased in all age groups.

WOMEN'S LABOUR FORCE STATUS

1979
2004


'000
%
'000
%

Employed
    Full-time
1 428.5
26.2
2 362.5
28.8
    Part-time
749.7
13.8
1 951.5
23.8
    Total
2 178.3
40.0
4 314.0
52.6
Unemployed
194.3
3.6
258.8
3.2
Not in the labour force
3 071.1
56.4
3 621.7
44.2
Women aged 15 years or over
5 443.7
100.0
8 194.5
100.0

Source: Labour Force, Australia, Detailed - Electronic Delivery, Monthly (ABS cat. no. 6291.0.55.001)

PROPORTION OF WOMEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED(a)
GRAPH: PROPORTION OF WOMEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED(a)



...WOMEN AGED 15–19 YEARS

Young women's employment has changed from being predominantly full-time to predominantly part-time, and the 15–19 year age group has the highest proportion of women employed part-time compared with all other age groups. In 1979, 35% of women aged 15–19 years were employed full-time, compared with 12% part-time. By 2004, this pattern had been reversed, with just 13% of women employed full-time and 40% part-time. This change accompanies higher participation rates of young women in education, as well as more part-time work opportunities. Part-time employment may be preferred by those who study, and may also be a stepping stone to full-time employment.

PROPORTION OF WOMEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED(a)
GRAPH: PROPORTION OF WOMEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED(a) women 15–19 years



...WOMEN AGED 20–24 YEARS

The proportion of women in this age group who were employed part-time almost tripled from 10% in 1979 to 28% in 2004. Over the same period, the proportion of women who were employed full-time decreased from 54% in 1979 to 43% in 2004. This change in employment patterns in part reflects a higher proportion of women in this age group combining tertiary studies and part-time employment.

PROPORTION OF WOMEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED(a)
GRAPH: PROPORTION OF WOMEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED(a) women 20–24 years



...WOMEN AGED 25–34 YEARS

Against the general trend of a greater rise in part-time employment compared with full-time employment, women in this age group showed a marked increase in full-time employment from 29% in 1979 to 44% in 2004, (while part-time employment increased more slowly from 18% in 1979 to 23% in 2004). This proportion of women who were employed full-time is the highest of all age groups. This may reflect a trend towards later ages for marriage and the birth of the first child, and more women with tertiary qualifications pursuing careers.

PROPORTION OF WOMEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED(a)
GRAPH: PROPORTION OF WOMEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED(a) 25–34 years



...WOMEN AGED 35–44 YEARS

The overall proportion of women who were employed in this age group increased from 55% in 1979 to 68% in 2004, with a majority of the increase reflected in part-time employment from 24% in 1979 to 33% in 2004 (while full-time employment increased more slowly, from 30% in 1979 to 35% in 2004). Many women in this age group have children aged under 15 years and are likely to be combining caring duties with part-time employment.

PROPORTION OF WOMEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED(a)
GRAPH: PROPORTION OF WOMEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED(a) women 35–44 years



...WOMEN AGED 45–54 YEARS

The overall proportion of women aged 45–54 who were employed increased from 45% in 1979 to 72% in 2004. This increase occurred in both part-time employment (from 18% in 1979 to 30% in 2004) and full-time employment (from 27% in 1979 to 42% in 2004). The proportion of women in employment in this age group was higher than all other age groups in 2004. This may be due to women in this age group being likely to have older children and to have returned to work.

PROPORTION OF WOMEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED(a)
GRAPH: PROPORTION OF WOMEN WHO WERE EMPLOYED(a) women 45–54 years



...OLDER WOMEN

In 2004, the proportion of women who were employed peaked at 45–54 years (72%) and then declined for older women. Of women aged 60–64 years, 29% were employed in 2004, up from 13% in 1979. The eligibility criteria for age pension payments increased from 60 years in 1979 to 62.5 years in 2004. Women may also be concerned about sufficient superannuation available to them and therefore remain in employment to improve financial security.

There was also an increase in the proportion of women aged 65 years and over who were employed, mostly in part-time employment. In 1979, 2% or 19,000 women aged 65 years and over were employed. This compares with 4% or 51,000 women in 2004.

WOMEN WITH FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES

While there has been an increase in the proportions of women employed in the last 25 years, there have been many social changes that impact on women's ability to balance work with other responsibilities. During the last 25 years, the nature of families has changed. Women are having fewer children, and at later ages. There has also been a rise in the number of lone parents and people living alone. In addition, older children tend to remain at home longer. With women having children at a later age, they may be still caring for their own children as well as ageing parents.

...SOCIAL MARITAL STATUS

Forming life (or long-term) partnerships and having children continues to be a common path for many women. The proportion of partnered women who were employed increased at a greater rate than for unpartnered women. The proportion of partnered women who were employed increased from 39% in 1979 to 56% in 2004,while the proportion of unpartnered women who were employed increased from 41% in 1979 to 48% in 2004. The lower employment of unpartnered women partly reflects the high proportions of young and elderly women in this group.

...WOMEN WITH CHILDREN

In 2004, there were 2.1 million women with children aged under 15 years. The proportion of these mothers who were employed increased from 49% in 1987 to 57% in 2004.

Employment of mothers is partly related to the ages of their children. In June 2004, mothers were employed in 45% of families whose youngest child was aged under 5 years. This figure increased to 64% for families whose youngest child was aged 5–9 years and 71% for families whose youngest child was aged 10–14 years. Part-time employment of mothers was more common among families with young children compared with older children. For example, mothers worked full-time in 14% of families with a youngest child under 5 years, and 31% worked part-time. In contrast, mothers worked full-time in 35% of families with a youngest child 10–14 years and 36% worked part-time.

On average in 2004, a higher proportion of partnered mothers with children under 15 years were employed than lone mothers with children under 15 years (60% compared with 46%). This may reflect greater difficulty for lone mothers managing their caring and income earning roles.(EndNote 4) Growth patterns in full-time and part-time employment have also been different. While the proportion of lone mothers in full-time employment decreased slightly (20% in 1987 compared with 19% in 2004), the proportion of lone mothers in part-time employment almost doubled from 15% in 1987 to 27% in 2004. Partnered mothers on the other hand, increased both full-time and part-time employment. In 2004, the proportion of partnered mothers employed full-time was 24% compared with 21% in 1987, while partnered mothers who were employed part-time increased from 30% in 1987 to 36% in 2004.

WOMEN WITH CHILDREN UNDER 15 YEARS: FULL-TIME AND PART-TIME EMPLOYED(a)
GRAPH: WOMEN WITH CHILDREN UNDER 15 YEARS: FULL-TIME AND PART-TIME EMPLOYED(a)



CHANGES IN INDUSTRY

The industry composition of the Australian labour market has changed considerably since the late 1980s. There has been a general decrease in employment in the goods-producing industries and an increase in service industries. These changes are reflected in the industries where women work. The proportion of employed women by industry decreased for a number of industries, including Manufacturing (11% in 1987 compared with 7% in 2004) and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (4% in 1987 compared with 3% in 2004).

There have been increases in the proportion of employed women in the Property and business services industry (7% in 1987 compared with 12% in 2004), and in the Health and community services industry (16% in 1987 compared with 18% in 2004).


Industry and occupation

Industry is a group of businesses or organisations that perform similar sets of activities in terms of the production of goods and services. Industry is classified according to the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC) 1993 (ABS cat. no. 1920.0).

Occupation is a collection of jobs that are sufficiently similar in their main tasks to be grouped together for the purposes of classification. Occupation is classified according to the ASCO Australian Classification of Occupations, Second Edition (ABS cat. no. 1220.0). The second edition was introduced in August 1996. Data prior to this date are concorded with ASCO second edition at the major group level.

EMPLOYED WOMEN(a) BY INDUSTRY — 1987 and 2004
GRAPH: EMPLOYED WOMEN(a) BY INDUSTRY — 1987 and 2004



CHANGES IN OCCUPATION

In 2004, women employed as Professionals or Associate professionals comprised just over one-third of the female workforce (34% compared with 26% in 1987), while a further 27% worked in Intermediate clerical or sales and service occupations (compared with 26% in 1987). In general, the proportion of women working in more skilled occupations has increased since 1987, while the proportion of women working in less skilled occupations has decreased. In contrast, the proportion of women working in the least skilled occupation of Labourers and related workers, was 7% in 2004 compared with 10% in 1987.

ENDNOTES
1 Evans, MDR and Kelley, J 2004, Trends in women's labour force participation in Australia: 19842004, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, Melbourne.
2 Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 2005, Striking the balance: Women, men, work and family, Discussion paper 2005, viewed 12 January 2006, <http://www.hreoc.gov.au/ sex_discrimination/strikingbalance>.
3 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004, 'Labour force participation', in Australian Labour Market Statistics, January 2005, (ABS cat. no. 6105.0), ABS, Canberra.
4 Department of Family and Community Services 1999, Parents the labour force and social security, Research Policy Paper No. 2, FACS, Canberra.


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