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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1999  
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Contents >> Work >> Under-utilised Labour: Older jobseekers

Underutilised Labour: Older jobseekers

Older jobseekers are less successful in obtaining work than young jobseekers, are more likely to drop out of the labour market and less likely to find a job as a result of a training course. Jobs they do find are more likely to be part- time or casual, and low-paid.

The ongoing decline in employment in goods production industries such as mining and manufacturing (down from 17% of Australia's workforce in November 1988 to 14% in November 1998) (see Australian Social Trends 1997, Changing industries, changing jobs), combined with a lack of transferable skills, has resulted in many older persons who worked in these industries being displaced from the workforce. As a result, people from these industries are over-represented among older jobseekers. For example, although only 14% of employed people in November 1998 were employed in manufacturing or mining, 22% of older jobseekers had been working in these industries prior to September 1994.

There have been changes, too, in the sorts of jobs that are offered - there is greater demand for workers in high skill occupations, and less for those requiring lower skills. 61% of older jobseekers had been employed in less skilled occupations compared with only 45% of the same age group from the general population.

Although their overall unemployment rate is relatively low (5%, compared to 15% for people aged less than 25 at March 1999), older people engaged in job search activities experience less success in obtaining work than younger jobseekers, possibly because of factors such as outdated skills, relatively low levels of education, competition with younger jobseekers, discrimination and less flexibility to change location. They are more likely to drop out of the labour market and less likely to find a job as a result of a training course.


The survey of employment and unemployment patterns (SEUP)

SEUP was a longitudinal survey. That is, information was collected from the same individuals (called the panel) over three years. The SEUP panel, who were selected in May 1995, provided a range of social and demographic information, including their employment history before September 1994 and their level of education. Subsequent interviews, in October 1995, 1996 and 1997, collected information about their labour market activities since September 1994, and their labour force status at September 1997.

Jobseekers, the main component of the SEUP panel, were persons aged 15-59 years who, at May 1995, were either unemployed, underemployed (working less than 10 hours per week and looking for a job with more hours), or not in the labour force (but likely to enter it in the near future).

Older jobseekers were jobseekers aged 45-59 years. In this article, comparisons are drawn between older jobseekers and a number of other groups of people:
  • Other jobseekers were jobseekers aged 15-44;
  • Young jobseekers were jobseekers aged 15-24; and
  • The general population were all persons aged 15-59 interviewed in SEUP.
Occupations
    In this article, occupations are classified by skill level according to the Australian Standard Classification of Occupations (ASCO), second edition, and are sometimes grouped as follows:
    • High skilled - comprising managers and administrators; professionals; associate professionals; tradespersons and related workers; and advanced clerical and service workers.
    • Less skilled - comprising intermediate clerical, sales and service workers; intermediate production and transport workers; elementary clerical, sales and service workers; and labourers and related workers.

    LABOUR MARKET EXPERIENCE OF THE PANEL OF OLDER JOBSEEKERS
    (a) Includes jobseekers who were working and looking for work at the same time.

    Source: Unpublished data, Survey of Employment and Unemployment Patterns.


    Labour market activities
    In May 1995, there were 875,100 jobseekers in Australia. The labour market activities of this group were monitored from that date, up to September 1997. Of these people, 168,000 (19%) were aged between 45 and 59.

    Between May 1995 and September 1997, the proportion of these older jobseekers who were looking for work fell steadily from 74% to 32%. Movements either into work or out of the labour market altogether contributed almost equally to this decline in job search activity.

    Over this same period, there was an increase in the proportion of older jobseekers who were working, from 13% to 35%. However, most of this increase was concentrated in a relatively short period between May 1995 and March 1996. This initial surge in employment can be attributed to more employable older jobseekers securing work after a relatively short period of job search. These successful jobseekers tended to then remain in employment. For example, 74% of those jobseekers who were working in March 1996 were also working 18 months later. Jobseekers in this group were more likely to have a post-school qualification (50%) than other jobseekers (40%).

    Those older jobseekers who did not have early success finding work continued to have difficulties in this regard. For example, of jobseekers who were looking for work at March 1996, only 22% were working at September 1997. They were more likely to be absent from the labour market (26%) or looking for work (52%).

    The proportion of older jobseekers who were absent from the labour market rose steadily from 13% to 32% between May 1995 and September 1997. These jobseekers stated that the main reasons for their absence included illness (38%), age discrimination (10%), and returning to studies (7%).

    Between May 1995 and September 1997, 43% of older jobseekers had had no work at all. This was more than double the proportion for other jobseekers (18%). At the end of the survey, only 22% of older jobseekers were in stable work, and a further 13% were in unstable work. The remaining 21% of older jobseekers had obtained some work over the reference period, but were not currently working.

    Jobseekers aged 55-59 were particularly unsuccessful in obtaining employment. Between May 1995 and September 1997, 65% of these jobseekers had obtained no work at all. At September 1997, only 17% of these jobseekers were working.


    Labour market outcomes

    Based on their labour market activities between May 1995 and September 1997 (the reference period for this article), jobseekers were classified into one of the following labour market outcomes at September 1997:
    • stable work in which their current job had lasted for six months or more and they were not concurrently looking for work; or
    • unstable work where their current job had lasted less than six months or they were concurrently looking for work; or
    • no longer working but had found some work during the reference period; or
    • not worked where they had not found any work during the reference period.

    JOBSEEKERS: LABOUR MARKET OUTCOMES, SEPTEMBER 1997

    Labour market outcome

    Stable work
    Unstable work
    No longer working
    Had not worked
    Total
    Total
    Age (years)
    %
    %
    %
    %
    '000
    %

    15-24
    33.7
    23.1
    28.0
    15.3
    306.2
    100.0
    25-44
    34.2
    20.6
    25.7
    19.5
    401.3
    100.0
    45-59
    22.2
    13.2
    21.5
    43.1
    167.6
    100.0
      45-54
    26.7
    16.3
    23.0
    34.0
    118.3
    100.0
      55-59
    11.6
    5.7
    17.8
    65.0
    49.2
    100.0
    Total jobseekers
    31.7
    20.0
    25.7
    22.5
    875.1
    100.0

    Source: Unpublished data, Survey of Employment and Unemployment Patterns.


    Characteristics and outcomes
    The composition of the older jobseeker group is quite different from the equivalent age group in the general population, and their labour market experiences varied according to their characteristics. Older jobseekers were more likely to be male, born overseas, living alone, and divorced or separated. The association between unemployment and relationship breakups is not clear - it is not possible to tell whether a relationship breakup has contributed to unemployment, was a result of it, or was of no relevance to it.

    Men were over-represented among older jobseekers compared with older men in the general population (58% and 50%, respectively). Labour market outcomes of older jobseekers were similar for men and women. For example, 21% of men had found stable work at the end of the period compared to 24% of women.

    There were fewer older jobseekers born in Australia (56%) than might be expected from their representation in the general population aged 45-59 (65%). In addition, success in obtaining a job at some time over the reference period was greater for older jobseekers born in Australia (60%), and those born in main English-speaking countries (65%), than for those born in other countries (46%).

    Older jobseekers were less likely to be in a married or de facto relationship (67%) and more likely to be divorced or separated (21%) than the general population aged 45-59 years (79% and 12%, respectively). Among older jobseekers there were only minor differences in labour market outcomes between those who were divorced or separated and those who were in a married or de facto relationship.

    There were 16% of older jobseekers who lived alone, compared with 10% of the general population aged 45-59. A reduced motivation to secure work, caused by fewer family pressures and a lower level of family support might explain why these jobseekers appeared to have had worse labour market experiences and outcomes. For example, 18% of those who lived alone were in stable work compared to 23% of other older jobseekers.

    Among older jobseekers, very few (7%) had obtained their highest qualification since 1990. Recent qualifications may be perceived as being of more value to prospective employers than older qualifications. Among older jobseekers, however, those with more recent qualifications did not appear to fare much better than those with older qualifications. Of those older jobseekers who had obtained their qualification since 1990, 45% were working at September 1997, compared with 43% of jobseekers who had obtained their qualification before 1990.

    Nevertheless, having qualifications can still assist older jobseekers in obtaining work - 69% of those who had post-school qualifications had worked between May 1995 and September 1997, and 28% were in stable employment at September 1997. In comparison, of those without qualifications, 48% had worked between May 1995 and September 1997, and only 18% were in stable employment at September 1997.

    OLDER JOBSEEKERS: SELECTED CHARACTERISTICS AND OUTCOMES, SEPTEMBER 1997

    Older jobseekers
    General
    population aged 45-59


    Labour market outcome

    Stable work
    Unstable work
    No longer
    working
    Had not worked
    Total number of older jobseekers
    Proportion of all older jobseekers(a)
    Total number
    Proportion(a)
    Characteristics
    %
    %
    %
    %
    '000
    %
    '000
    %

    Males
    21.3
    13.7
    22.0
    43.1
    97.5
    58.1
    1,496.6
    50.4
    Females
    23.5
    12.5
    20.8
    43.1
    70.1
    41.9
    1,471.2
    49.6
    Born in Australia
    23.1
    14.6
    21.9
    40.4
    93.9
    56.0
    1,927.8
    65.0
    Born in main English-speaking countries
    24.1
    15.9
    25.4
    34.5
    27.2
    16.2
    420.7
    14.2
    Born in other countries
    19.4
    8.7
    18.3
    53.6
    46.6
    27.8
    619.2
    20.9
    Married/de facto(b)
    22.5
    13.1
    19.7
    44.8
    113.1
    67.5
    2,358.1
    79.5
    Divorced/separated (b)
    24.3
    15.1
    22.0
    38.7
    35.0
    20.9
    349.8
    11.8
    Living alone(b)
    17.9
    15.4*
    22.6
    44.0
    26.5
    15.8
    284.4
    9.6
    Without post-school qualifications
    18.3
    11.1
    18.3
    52.3
    96.0
    57.3
    1,480.8
    49.9
    With post-school qualifications
    27.5
    16.0
    25.7
    30.7
    71.6
    42.7
    1,487.0
    50.1
      Qualified since 1990
    23.3*
    21.7*
    26.9*
    28.1*
    12.1
    7.2
    200.6
    6.8
      Qualified before 1990
    28.4
    14.9
    25.4
    31.3
    59.5
    35.5
    1,286.4
    43.3

    (a) Proportion in each group.
    (b) Social marital status at September 1995.

    Source: Unpublished data, Survey of Employment and Unemployment Patterns.


    Previous occupations
    Older jobseekers came from a wide range of occupation backgrounds. However, by comparing their occupational profiles with those of the general population in the equivalent age group, it can be seen that older jobseekers were more likely to be drawn from less skilled occupations, such as labouring (19% of jobs compared to 10%), and intermediate production and transport (15% of jobs compared to 10%), and less likely to be from high-skill ones such as management (3% of jobs compared to 8%).

    Even so, older jobseekers tended to come from more highly skilled occupations than young jobseekers. A large proportion of the jobs previously held by young jobseekers were either elementary clerical (30%) or labouring (28%).

    JOBS HELD BY THE PANEL OF OLDER JOBSEEKERS COMPARED TO OTHER POPULATION GROUPS

    Jobs held prior to September 1994(a)
    Jobs held by older

    jobseekers
    Older jobseekers
    Older persons
    Young jobseekers
    at September 1997
    Occupation
    %
    %
    %
    %

    Managers and administrators
    3.2
    8.0
    0.2
    3.1
    Professionals
    9.0
    11.9
    2.8
    8.6
    Associate professionals
    10.5
    12.9
    3.4
    10.6
    Tradespersons and related workers
    13.5
    17.2
    12.5
    13.6
    Advanced clerical and service workers
    2.8
    4.9
    0.9
    3.4
    Intermediate clerical, sales and service workers
    16.2
    16.3
    14.3
    18.3
    Intermediate production and transport workers
    15.4
    9.9
    7.9
    12.7
    Elementary clerical, sales and service workers
    10.4
    8.9
    30.4
    10.4
    Labourers and related workers
    19.0
    10.0
    27.6
    19.3
    Total
    100.0
    100.0
    100.0
    100.0

    (a) Excludes those who were not working prior to the survey.

    Source: Unpublished data, Survey of Employment and Unemployment Patterns.


    Job search
    Being considered too old by potential employers was given as the main difficulty in finding work for 47% of older jobseekers' episodes of looking for work, while a lack of vacancies was given for only 20% of their job-search episodes.

    Established mortgages and social networks, school-aged children and working partners all contribute to making people aged 45-59 less geographically mobile. In only 23% of their job search episodes did older jobseekers say they would be prepared to move to obtain a job. The equivalent figure for other jobseekers was 43%.

    Older jobseekers were more likely to have received unemployment benefits over the survey period than other jobseekers - 51% compared to 46% - and tended to be on benefits for longer (an average of 68% of the survey period compared to 60% for other jobseekers).

    Training
    In the SEUP, information was collected on external training. External training consists mainly of short courses, not conducted by employers, taken to improve job skills. It excludes courses of more than one semester in duration and that lead to an educational qualification. Between May 1995 and September 1997, 19% of older jobseekers had participated in at least one external training course to help them get a job. This participation rate was comparable with that of other jobseekers (20%).

    Although they had similar participation rates, older jobseekers had less success than other jobseekers in obtaining a job as a result of this training. Only 11% of older jobseekers who did external training indicated that the course helped them get a job, compared with 19% of other jobseekers.


    PROPORTION OF JOBS FOUND BY OLDER JOBSEEKERS WHICH LASTED LESS THAN SIX MONTHS(a)
    (a) Excludes jobs lasting less than 6 months and continuing at September 1997.

    Source: Unpublished data, Survey of Employment and Unemployment Patterns.

    Nature of work found
    As well as being less successful in finding jobs, job outcomes for older jobseekers were also generally less favourable in terms of occupation, income and job security. When compared with jobs held during the survey period by the general population in the equivalent age group, older jobseekers who found work between May 1995 and September 1997 were more likely to have been employed on a casual basis. Some 71% of jobs found by these jobseekers were casual compared with 34% for older workers in the general population.

    During the survey period, the jobs found by older male jobseekers were also less likely to be full-time (61%) than those held by men from the general population aged 45-59 (80%). Among women, the difference was smaller - 35% compared with 36%. Moreover, jobs which were found by older jobseekers were likely to be short term. Over half (54%) of the jobs found by older jobseekers lasted less than six months.

    However, this varied according to their occupation. For example, those jobs found in management or associate professional occupations were likely to last longer than six months, although these were in the minority. Many more found jobs as labourers or tradespersons, and these were likely to last less than six months. Those jobs found in professional occupations (probably contract work in professional fields) were also likely to last less than six months.

    Older jobseekers did not always find work in the same occupations they were in previously. Of those older jobseekers who were working at the end of the survey period, almost half (45%) who had previously held high-skill jobs were working in less skilled jobs. In contrast, less than a quarter (23%) of those from less skilled jobs had made the transition to high-skill jobs.

    Consistent with their less skilled occupational background, hourly wage and salary earnings for older jobseekers was, on average, about a third lower ($13.25 gross) than for workers aged 45-59 from the general population ($17.23 gross). Over half (52%) of jobs found by older jobseekers paid less than $12 an hour, compared with only a quarter (26%) of jobs held by older people in the general population.


    HOURLY EARNINGS FROM WAGE AND SALARY JOBS
    Source: Unpublished data, Survey of Employment and Unemployment Patterns.
    Older jobseekers with children

    Children in families in which one or both parents do not have paid employment are likely to be at greater risk of socio-economic disadvantage than children in other families (see Australian Social Trends 1999, Lower income working families).

    In September 1997, there were 39,500 older jobseekers who were married or de facto with dependent children, comprising 13,500 women and 26,000 men. Close to half (46%, or 18,300 in total) of older jobseekers with dependent children did not find any work at all between May 1995 and September 1997.



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