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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2003  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/06/2003   
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Contents >> Work >> Paid work: Changes in labour force participation across generations

Paid work: Changes in labour force participation across generations

Between 1971 and 2001, the proportion of employed persons working full-time declined from 89% to 69%. This decrease varied across successive cohorts of men and women.

Social and economic change transformed Australian society over the latter half of the 20th century. Associated with this were changes, many of them interrelated, in people’s participation and experiences in the labour market, and in the nature of work itself. Changes in attitudes to the role of women are reflected in large increases in women’s labour force participation (from 37% to 55%) between 1971 and 2001. Increased participation of women also contributed to an increase in overall labour force participation (from 59% to 63%).

Over the same period, changes in the labour market contributed to a decline in the proportion of employed people working full-time (from 89% to 69%). In addition, changes to Australian industry saw growth in the service sector, with the proportion of employed persons working in service industries increasing from 57% to 75%, between 1971 and 2001. This growth provided increased employment opportunities for people across all age groups, with many of the positions being part-time.

In keeping with the growing importance of educational qualifications to success in the labour market, and greater tertiary education opportunities, the proportion of employed people with a bachelor degree or higher also increased from 3% to 19% during this 30 year period. Moreover, 35% of 15-24 year olds were participating in education in 1971, compared with 54% in 2001.

SELECTED INDICATORS OF CHANGING LABOUR FORCE CHARACTERISTICS
Units
1971
2001

Labour force participationrate
58.8
63.0
Female labour force participationrate
37.1
55.3
Members of the labour force aged 55 years and over%
13.2
11.5
Employed persons in full-time work%
89.0
69.4
Employed persons working in service industries%
56.6
74.9
Employed persons with bachelor degree or higher qualification%
3.2
18.7
Persons aged 15-24 years attending a school or other educational institution%
34.8
54.2

Source: ABS 1971 and 2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.


Labour force participation
This article draws on data from the ABS Census of Population and Housing, held every five years and most recently conducted in August 2001. Data from censuses held from 1971 to 2001 inclusive are used to examine successive 5-year age cohorts in the labour force. For the purposes of this article each person is assumed to have turned their reported age during the calendar year the census was held.

Employed people are those aged 15 years and over who worked for payment or profit, or as an unpaid helper in a family business, during the week prior to census night, or had a job from which they were on leave or otherwise temporarily absent, or were on strike or stood down temporarily.

The labour force consists of people aged 15 years and over who are employed, or those who do not have a job but are actively looking for work and are available to start work. The labour force participation rate is the proportion of all people aged 15 years and over who are in the labour force.


Cohort comparisons
In the context of the changes described above, this article primarily examines the labour force experiences, over the period 1971 to 2001, of people who were born between 1907 and 1981 (i.e. those people who would be expected to be aged between 20 and 94 years in 2001). These people are divided into 5-year age groups (or cohorts). For the purposes of this article each person is assumed to have turned their stated age during the census year.

For simplicity, the graphs in this article present data for six cohorts of people who were born between 1927 and 1981. The most recent or youngest cohort, those born in 1977-1981, had reached work force age (15-19 years) by the 1996 Census, and in 2001 were aged 20-24 years. The next cohort, those born in 1972-1976, were aged 15-19 years in 1991, and 25-29 years in 2001. This continues up to the oldest cohort (those born in 1927-1931), where these people were aged 40-44 years in 1971, and 70-74 years in 2001 (for more information on cohort analysis see Australian Social Trends 2002, Changes across Australian generations). Comparing the level and nature of labour force participation for each cohort with the levels experienced by other cohorts at the same ages shows how the labour force experience of successive groups of Australians has changed over time.

Participation in the labour force
Between 1971 and 2001, the overall level of men’s labour force participation declined from 81% to 71%. When comparing successive cohorts, this overall decline reflects relatively consistent decreases in the labour force participation of men across all stages of their working lives. Comparing the cohorts of men aged between 20-24 and 50-54 years in 1971 with those in the same age groups 30 years later (i.e. in 2001), there was a consistent decline of between 5 and 8 percentage points in labour force participation across all age groups.

Comparisons of cohorts at older ages (i.e. between 50-54 and 65-69 years) show larger declines. For example, in 1971, three-quarters of the cohort of men born in 1907-1911 were participating in the labour force at age 60-64 years, compared with half of the cohort aged 60-64 years in 2001 (those born in 1937-1941). These larger declines in participation reflect the trend towards earlier retirement among men. While some older men choose early retirement, others leave the labour force as a result of industry restructuring and the higher incidence of long-term unemployment in older age groups (see Australian Social Trends 2000, Retirement and retirement intentions).

LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION RATES FOR MALES IN SELECTED BIRTH YEAR GROUPS - 1971-2001
Graph - Labour force participation rates for males in selected birth year groups - 1971-2001

Source: ABS 1971–2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.


In contrast to the decline in men’s labour force participation, the participation rate for women increased from 37% to 55% between 1971 and 2001. In addition to general acceptance of women in the workforce, greater opportunities emerged for women to participate in paid work while raising children, such as the increased availability of child care and more flexible working arrangements (notably part-time work). Women were also able to participate and progress in a wider variety of jobs as a result of increased completion of secondary school, access to and participation in post-school education, and management of fertility through increased use of contraception.

When comparing successive cohorts of women at the same age, participation in the labour force increased over time for almost all age groups. The only exceptions to this were in the youngest age groups (15-19 and 20-24 years), where slight falls occurred for the youngest cohorts, reflecting increased participation in education among younger women. The most substantial increases in labour force participation for successive cohorts of women occurred when they were in the age groups between 20-24 and 45-49 years.

Despite this growth in participation, women in all cohorts tended to have lower labour force participation during the years they were most likely to have very young children. During these years, the lowest levels of labour force participation for the three cohorts of women born between 1947 and 1961 (i.e. those aged between 40 and 54 years in 2001), were when they were aged 25-29 years. Consistent with current trends of younger women delaying marriage and child bearing, the following two cohorts (those born in 1962-1971) had lower levels of labour force participation when they were aged 30-34 years. In keeping with this, the largest increase in women’s labour force participation occurred across the successive cohorts of women aged 25-29 years. For the cohorts of women in this age group in 1971 (those born in 1942-1946) and those in 2001 (those born in 1972-1976), the participation rate increased from 39% to 73% respectively.

The next largest increase in participation across cohorts was among women aged 45-49 years between 1971 and 2001 (from 43% to 76%). While reflecting the overall increased participation of women in the workforce, this trend may also be influenced by increasing dependence on dual incomes within many families and some women returning to or taking up paid work after separation or divorce.

LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION RATES FOR FEMALES IN SELECTED BIRTH YEAR GROUPS - 1971-2001
Graph - Labour force participation rates for females in selected birth year groups - 1971-2001

Source: ABS 1971–2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.


Full-time and part-time workers
People employed full-time are those who reported working 35 hours or more per week in the week prior to the census.

People employed part-time are those who reported working 1-34 hours per week in the week prior to the census.

Full-time or part-time work
In an increasingly competitive economy, the use of part-time employees can be seen by business as an avenue to achieve flexibility and gain cost advantages.1 Part-time work can also benefit employees, such as parents and students, as it provides income and involvement in the labour market while allowing reduced or flexible working hours. On the other hand, part-time work is also associated with lower earnings than full-time work, due to fewer hours being worked, and therefore does not suit the needs of some workers.

PROPORTION OF EMPLOYED MALES WORKING FULL-TIME FOR SELECTED BIRTH YEAR GROUPS - 1971-2001
Graph - Proportion of employed males working full-time for selected birth year groups - 1971-2001

Source: ABS 1971–2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.


Over the latter part of the 20th century, most employed men worked full-time (approximately 90% or more), until they reached 55 years of age. From age 55 years, the propensity to be working full-time decreased. However, in keeping with a shift to part-time work, the likelihood of workers in successive cohorts to be working full-time at any particular age declined over time. The size and reasons for these declines varied at different stages in their working lives.

Among employed men from the youngest four cohorts (those born between 1962-1966 and 1977-1981), the propensity to be working full-time decreased more markedly than for those in older cohorts. Moreover, these declines were largest for men in their early working years (i.e. those aged between 15-19 and 20-24 years). In 1986, of those aged 15-19 years (those born in 1967-1971), 80% were working full-time. In 2001, the cohort born 15 years later (in 1982-1986) were in the same age group and 43% were working full-time. This was 36 percentage points lower than the cohort mentioned above. These declines are consistent with the trend towards students working part-time while studying, and the overall increase in participation in further education during the last two decades of the 20th century (see Australian Social Trends 2001, Combining study and work).

PROPORTION OF EMPLOYED FEMALES WORKING FULL-TIME FOR SELECTED BIRTH YEAR GROUPS - 1971-2001
Graph - Proportion of employed females working full-time for selected birth year groups - 1971-2001

Source: ABS 1971–2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.


Over the 30 years to 2001, most of the growth in women’s participation in the labour force reflects their take-up of part-time work. As a result, while overall numbers of employed women increased over this period, the proportion of employed women working full-time declined across almost all age groups, when comparing successive cohorts at the same ages. In the 1970s, women in the youngest age groups were the most likely of all age groups to be employed on a full-time basis. Over the 30 years to 2001, this became increasingly less likely to be the case. This change was at least partly associated with increased participation in further education and the associated take up of part-time work. For example, in 1971, 88% of employed women aged 20-24 years (those born in 1947-1951), were working full-time. By 2001, 61% of employed women in the same age group (those born in 1977-1981) worked full-time.

In contrast, women in the 25-29 and 30-34 year age groups experienced little change in the propensity to be working full-time across successive cohorts. This is likely to reflect increasing numbers of women who establish a career after obtaining post-school qualifications and the delay in child-bearing often associated with this. The lower likelihood of working women to be engaged in full-time, rather than part-time, employment in successive cohorts is again evident among older age groups of women (i.e. those aged between 35-39 and 65-69 years). Women working part-time while caring for children are also likely to be influencing this trend, along with women in the older age groups shifting to part-time work as they approach retirement.

PROPORTION OF EMPLOYED PERSONS WORKING IN SERVICE INDUSTRIES FOR SELECTED BIRTH YEAR GROUPS - 1971-2001
Graph - Proportion of employed persons working in service industries for selected birth year groups - 1971-2001

Source: ABS 1971–2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.


Shift to service industries
Over the latter half of the 20th century, shifts in the composition of the labour force, such as the increase in part-time work, occurred alongside substantial growth in employment in the service industries. The likelihood of successive cohorts to be working in service industries, rather than in goods-producing industries, at any particular age increased between 1971 and 2001. Over the 30 years to 2001, across successive cohorts, increasingly larger proportions of people in each age group have been employed within service industries. In 1971, 54% of 40-44 year olds (those born in 1927-1931) were employed in service industries. In comparison, in 2001, 74% of people in the same age group (from the cohort born in 1957-1961) were employed in these industries.

In addition to the general expansion of employment in the service industries, these industries are relatively large employers of women, compared with goods-producing industries. This is most notable for particular service industry groups such as Wholesale and retail trade; Community services; Recreational, personal and other services; and Finance (see Australian Social Trends 1997, Changing industries, changing jobs). Between 1971 and 2001, the proportion of employed women working in service industries rose from 74% to 87%. Over the same period, the proportion of employed men working in these industries also rose markedly (from 49% to 65%).

Goods-producing and service industries
In this article, industry information is presented by combining broad divisions of the ASIC and ANZSIC industry classifications into two groups:
  • Service industries, which are defined as Property and business services; Accommodation, cafes and restaurants; Cultural and recreational services; Personal and other services; Health and community services; Retail trade; Education; Wholesale trade; Government administration and defence; Finance and insurance; Transport and storage; and Communication services.
  • Goods-producing industries, which are defined as Construction; Agriculture, forestry and fishing; Manufacturing; Mining; and Electricity, gas and water.
Some industries listed as service industries have goods-producing components. However, the ABS classifies industries according to their predominant activity. See Information Paper: Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), 1993 (ABS cat. no. 1298.0).


Endnotes
1 O’Connor K., Stimson R. and Daly M., 2001, Australia’s Changing Economic Geography: A society dividing, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.

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