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Paid Work: Trends in women's employment
In March 1998 there were 3.7 million women employed, representing 43% of total employment. The employment rate for women aged 15-64 was 59% and for men 76%. As has been the case for several decades now, the majority of employed women are married (61%), many of them with children. Of all employed women, 57% worked in full-time jobs while the remainder, often students and women with young children, were employed on a part-time basis.
As in many other countries, the levels and patterns of women's participation in work have undergone substantial change over the last forty years. During the post World War II baby boom relatively few women were employed and of those employed relatively few were married. In 1954 less than one in three women aged 15-64 in Australia (29%) were employed and only 31% of these women were married. At that time, married women were generally expected to support the family at home, while their partners were recognised as being the breadwinner.
Since then, social attitudes to the roles (and rights) of women have changed. These changes have been supported by legislation recognising demands for equal opportunity in education and employment. These have included the lifting of marriage bars from employment (1966 in the Commonwealth Public Service), the ruling of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in 1969 that women should receive equal pay to men for equal work, and the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984, and the Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act in 1986.
Over the years, changes in work processes (generally favouring fewer manual jobs) and the growth of service industries (see Australian Social Trends 1997, Changing industries, changing jobs) together with changes in human resource management practices have expanded opportunities for women to work and to combine work with traditional family responsibilities. While more women work in full-time (rather than part-time) jobs, a far larger part of the growth in numbers of women at work, has been among women working in part-time jobs (see Australian Social Trends 1994, Trends in part-time work).
EMPLOYED WOMEN: SELECTED INDICATORS
(b) Among women aged 15-64.
Source: Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1954, Statisticians Report; and unpublished data, Labour Force Surveys.
Age and marital status
Insights into some of the major changes that have occurred can be gained by comparing the labour force participation rates of women according to their life cycle stage, as indicated by age and whether they are married or not. The most notable change over the last 30 years has been among married women. The participation rate for married women aged 15-64 increased from 34% in 1968 to 63% in 1998, while that for other women increased from 65% to 67%.
For many years, the distribution of age-specific participation rates for married women showed a characteristic M-shaped pattern, with peaks among women aged 20-24 and 35-44 years, and a trough at the prime child-bearing ages of 25-34 years. However, as participation rates among all women increased, the depth of the trough (most evident in the late 1970s) decreased. In 1968, 32% of married women aged 25-34 were in the labour force, and by 1998 this proportion had increased to 66%.
Changes in these participation rates have occurred along with changing patterns of family formation, such as the delay in child-bearing and reductions in family size (see Australian Social Trends 1996, Trends in fertility). For women with young children, increased levels of participation have also been facilitated by the expansion of child care services (see Australian Social Trends 1994 and 1998, Child care).
LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION RATES BY AGE
Not married women
Source: Unpublished data, Labour Force Surveys, August 1968 and March in subsequent years.
Against the general trend, labour force participation rates among young unmarried women in 1968 were higher than those for young women in 1998. Among teenagers (those aged 15-19) the rates declined from 61% in 1968 to 59% in 1998 and among those aged 20-24 from 89% to 80%. The rates for men have also declined (for teenagers from 61% to 58% and for those aged 20-24 from 90% to 86%). The continuing (albeit small) decline over the last decade or so reflects the increasing tendency for young people to stay at school longer, and to take up post-school education or training (see Australian Social Trends 1998, Education - National summary tables).
As well as the declines in participation rates, more young women (and men) are working in part-time jobs; partly because a larger number of them are students and partly because more jobs for young people are now casual/part-time. The proportion of the female teenage workforce employed part-time increased from 46% to 74% between 1988 and 1998. (The proportion for teenage males also increased, from 29% to 51%.) In March 1998, 34% of female teenagers attending school were working part-time. For young women attending tertiary education full-time, 46% of the teenagers and 43% of 20-24 year olds were also working part-time.
Women with children
Women's participation is closely related to the age of their youngest child. As would be expected, the proportions of women working are comparatively low in families with a child under five years of age. This is so for both married and lone mothers, although married mothers are more likely to be employed (see Australian Social Trends 1997, One-parent families). In June 1997, 46% of married mothers, and 32% of lone mothers, with a child aged 0-4 were employed. Most of these mothers were employed in part-time jobs.
Women with older children are more likely to be employed. However, women with teenage and older dependents are more likely to work in full-time jobs than women with younger primary school children (aged 5-9). These patterns have held for the last ten years. However, the proportions of mothers working have increased for all ages of youngest child.
EMPLOYMENT RATES OF MARRIED(a) WOMEN WITH CHILDREN
(a) Includes those with de facto marriage partners.
Source: Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Families, June 1987 and 1997 (cat. no. 6224.0).
Partly reflecting the interests of employers in seeking greater flexibility in work arrangements (associated with the growth of jobs in service industries) has been the growth of jobs offered on a casual, rather than on a permanent, basis. When classifying people according to their main job, 32% of working women worked in casual jobs in August 1997, up from 27% in 1988. The proportion of male casual employees almost doubled (up to 21%) over the same period.
Along with the general increase in part-time jobs, employers have also been acting to balance their interests and those of their employees by offering more jobs on a permanent part-time basis. This arrangement has been commonly adopted by women, many of whom may prefer such arrangements in order to spend more time with their children. Between 1988 and 1997 the proportion of working women in permanent part-time jobs increased from 13% to 18%.
Source: Weekly Earnings of Employees, August 1988 and 1997 (cat. no. 6310.0).
As more women have taken up jobs and careers they have also taken up a broader (and more highly skilled) range of occupations than in the past. However, women continue to be more highly concentrated in those occupations traditionally dominated by women.
Compared to other OECD countries Australia has had one of the more highly segregated labour forces1 and this has not changed much over the last 20 years.2 Segregation by type of job and level (in terms of managerial responsibility) has implications for women relating to level of earnings, employment opportunity and, more broadly, for their access to decision-making positions.
In February 1998 more than one half (54%) of female employees in their main job worked in the clerical, sales and service groups of occupations, and substantially outnumbered men in these areas. In contrast, the trades, production and transport occupations, including labourers (which covered 47% of male employees) were largely dominated by men.
Similar numbers of women and men (699,000 and 771,000 respectively) were classified in the professional category. However, certain occupations within this category were strongly segregated by gender. For instance, 91% of the 170,000 nurses and 69% of the 255,000 school teachers in Australia were female. In contrast, 83% of science, building and engineering professionals were men. Less than one quarter (24%) of managers and administrators were women.
OCCUPATIONAL DISTRIBUTION, FEBRUARY 1998
Source: Labour Force Australia, February 1998 (cat. no. 6203.0).
1 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1980, Women and Employment: policies for equal opportunities, OECD, Paris.
2 Lambert, S. and Petridis, R. 1995, 'Slow progress: the integration of women into the Australian labour market', Working paper No. 117, Economics Programme Murdoch University, Perth.