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Feature Article - Technical report: Measures of weekly hours worked
For persons with only one job, the first two measures will be the same.
Three presentation forms
There are many ways of presenting weekly hours worked data. Those in general use for the LFS are:
Choice of the most appropriate hours measure and of the form in which it might best be presented depends on the aim of the analysis.
USING LFS HOURS MEASURES
Actual hours worked in all jobs
Collected since the national survey began in the 1960s, this approach reflects the economic roots of the LFS. As recommended by the International Labour Organisation, the survey measures the labour supply available for the production of goods and services as presented in the National Accounts. Actual hours worked in all jobs thus represents the total volume of labour activity in a given period. See tables 2.5, 2.6, 2.7 and 2.8. Actual hours worked in all jobs is also used for measuring labour productivity — the relationship between GDP and hours worked.
Usual hours worked in all jobs
Introduced in the April 2001 survey, data are available only from that survey onwards. Earlier surveys recorded only whether or not persons actually working less than 35 hours (in all jobs) usually worked less than 35 hours per week, the information being used to determine Full-time/Part-time Status.
The new series reflects the usual working pattern of employed persons, unaffected by seasonal influences arising from school holidays and other periods in which leave is commonly taken (Easter, Christmas and so on) and other regular changes in working hours. The data are also free of the impact of other time taken off work (illness, for example), or additional time worked (whether as paid or unpaid overtime).
This measure offers a useful source for comparison with actual hours worked data, where there is a need to understand ongoing working arrangements. See table 2.8.
Actual hours worked in main job
Introduced in the April 2001 survey, there is no comparable measure prior to that date.
In the LFS, a number of questions (Industry and Occupation for example) relate only to an employed person's main job. For multiple job holders, then, weekly hours worked in their main job offers a useful additional measure. For example, analysis of average hours actually worked in main job by Occupation or Industry may be more appropriate for multiple job holders than the conventional average hours in all jobs.
Data on actual hours worked in main job are not currently presented in Australian Labour Market Statistics (cat. no. 6105.0) tables.
PRESENTING HOURS MEASURES
Based on actual hours worked in all jobs, aggregate hours worked is of interest because it represents the total volume of hours worked by the labour force producing economic goods and services in the survey reference week.
As the data are collected in relation to particular survey reference weeks, they may not reflect the whole month, requiring a range of adjustments and other inputs for National Accounts labour productivity purposes.
Aggregate weekly hours worked data are presented in the Labour Market Summary table on page 5.
Changes in the level of aggregate weekly hours worked over time reflect the combined effect of changes in the level of employment and in the hours worked by employed persons, as both respond to short-term fluctuations and the underlying business cycle. Expressed in original monthly terms, aggregate hours data are highly seasonal with some complex features.
In recent years, male and female aggregate hours have been growing at broadly the same rate, although female employment has been growing more strongly than male employment. This result reflects the strong contribution of part-time employment to rising female employment.
Hours worked groups
An insight into the patterns of work of employed persons (in number or proportion) can be gained from classifying the chosen data by weekly hours of work expressed in groups.
Comparison between different populations of interest (or at different points in time) helps to illustrate change in the structure of the labour force and the possible social impact of changes in working time.
Unlike the equal intervals of years commonly used in classifying data by Age group, the established practice of unequal hours groups in ABS labour force data recognises workplace norms, including the historical importance of the 40 hour working week.
EMPLOYED PERSONS, Actual hours worked in all jobs
In August 2002, as in August 1982, similar proportions of employed males and females were absent from work for the whole of the survey reference week and reported working zero hours.
In both 1982 and 2002, in each hours group up to 30 to 34 hours, the proportion of employed females was markedly higher than that for males, reflecting the strength of female part-time employment (broadly, those working less than 35 hours per week). Similar proportions of males and females reported working 35 to 39 hours per week in all jobs. Higher proportions of males reported longer working hours, particularly in the upper ranges.
Between 1982 and 2002, there was a substantial reduction in the proportion of persons working 40 hours per week, while there were increases in the proportions of those working 1 to 29 hours, and those working 45 hours or more.
EMPLOYED PERSONS, Hours worked in all jobs — August 2002
Overall, about 5% of those employed were absent from work for the whole week in August 2002. Small numbers of employed people also report that they usually work zero hours: by far the majority of these were in part-time employment at the time of the survey (presumably in short-term jobs).
The proportions working between 1 and 29 hours per week were similar for actual hours worked and usual hours worked in all jobs. Differences in other groups were more pronounced, reflecting the incidence of time off and overtime. A 40 hour week was often reported, particularly for hours usually worked. The proportion of persons working 50 hours or more, under either measure, is also notable.
Average weekly hours worked
This simple and very common method offers a broad insight into differences in work patterns, either between different groups or over time.
Some care needs to be taken in choosing, comparing and interpreting simple arithmetic averages. Although their very simplicity is appealing, averages may disguise widely differing contributions between their underlying groups, or changes in group behaviour.
Partly for that reason, past LFS practice for average hours worked data was to present average actual weekly hours worked for two groups: all employed persons, and employed persons at work (that is, excluding the employed who, absent from work in the reference week, worked 0 hours). The marked difference between the two measures is clearly illustrated in the graph above.
Even in the short period since April 2001, the seasonal influences on the average actual hours series, whether arising from social factors (customs in leave-taking) or from economic factors (workplace-related influences), are clearly apparent. It is also apparent (if not unexpected) that average actual weekly hours for those at work is noticeably less seasonal than average actual weekly hours for all employed persons.
Again as expected, while closely following the month-to-month pattern of average weekly hours in all jobs for employed persons, average weekly hours in main job lies at a slightly lower level.
Average usual hours worked in all jobs appears to be the least seasonal of the three average hours measures.
The above graph compares average actual hours and average usual hours for all employed persons and for multiple job holders. The impact of absence from work is seen to be similar for both groups, at somewhat over 1 hour per week. The impact of the additional hours worked by multiple job holders is also readily apparent: about 11 hours per week in the second or subsequent jobs, on average, while working less hours in the main job (in comparison with other employed persons).
OTHER HOURS MEASURES
Other hours measures arise in the business survey context of jobs data, including the hours paid for measure provided by the (business) Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours, and the normal hours concept (used purely in the classification of jobs data to full-time or part-time).
Whether taken from an economic perspective or from a social one, the LFS offers a rich source of information about the working hours of the employed population.
For further information about LFS hours worked data, please contact Peter Bradbury, Assistant Director, Labour Force and Supplementary Surveys Section on Canberra 02 6252 6565 or email <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
The underlying concepts and structure of Australian labour statistics and the sources and methods used in their compilation are described in Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods (cat. no. 6102.0), which is also available on the ABS web site <www.abs.gov.au> (About Statistics — Concepts and Classifications).
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