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People in their 20s: Then and Now
PERSONS AGED 20-29 YEARS: SELECTED INDICATORS
Persons aged 20-29 years who were born overseas: country of birth
LIVING ARRANGEMENTS AND FAMILY LIFE
Since the late 1970s there has been an increasing delay in the ages at which young people reach a range of milestones in the life cycle. This delay is very evident when comparing the living arrangements of people in their 20s in 2001 with those in the same age group 25 years earlier. In 2001, the most common living arrangement for people in their 20s was to be living in the parental home - 30% of people in this age group were living with at least one parent. In contrast, 21% of people in this age group were living with at least one parent in 1976. Conversely, while 16% of people aged 20-29 years were partners in couples with children in 2001, 40% of people in this age group were partners in couples with children in 1976, and this was the most common living arrangement for this age group at that time. In both 2001 and 1976, 21% of people in their 20s were living as partners in couples without children, and in both years, 8% of people in this age group were living alone. A higher proportion of people in their 20s in 2001 were living in group households (12% compared with 1%), suggesting a shift towards transitional living arrangements after leaving home but before forming partnerships.
The trend towards marrying later in life (and specifically towards entering a registered marriage) occurred among all ages within the 20-29 year age range. In 2001, nearly all 20 year olds had never been married (97%), with the proportion of people never married decreasing with each successive year of age. Almost half (49%) of 29 year olds in 2001 had never been married. In comparison, 76% of 20 years olds and 13% of 29 years olds in 1976 had never been married. In keeping with this, the median age at first marriage was 29 years for men and 27 years for women in 2001, compared with 24 and 21 years respectively in 1976. (endnote 1) This is partly related to young people being more likely to be studying in 2001 than in 1976 and therefore not in an economic position to marry, but also reflects the trend towards de facto partnerships rather than registered marriages.
The changes in living arrangements described above, as well as changing attitudes towards women and increased access to birth control, post-school education and a greater variety of paid work, had a particular impact on the role of women in their 20s between 1976 and 2001. A woman's 20s are physiologically her prime childbearing years and in 1976, 90% of first births within current relationships were to women aged under 30 years (13% to women aged under 20 years). However, (following on from the lower likelihood of people in their 20s to be partnered or married) women in their 20s in 2001 were less likely to become mothers for the first time than in 1976, instead delaying having children to older ages (or not having children at all). Around half (51%) of first births within current relationships in 2001 were to women in their 20s, compared with 77% in 1976. And in 2001, most of these births were to women in their late 20s, while in 1976 most first births within current relationships were to women between the ages of 22 and 24 years. In 2001, 48% of first births within a current relationship were to women aged 30 years and over, compared with 10% in 1976. (For more information on the trend since the 1970s for women to have children later in life see Australian Social Trends 2001, Older mothers).
PERSONS AGED 20-29 YEARS: SELECTED LIVING ARRANGEMENTS(a)
Persons aged 20-29 years: proportion never married
First births(a): age of mother
PARTICIPATION IN EDUCATION
Over the 1980s, there was a steady increase in the proportion of students completing school, and while this levelled out over the 1990s, school retention rates remained at higher levels than in the preceding decades (see also Australian Social Trends 2001, Trends in completing school). Further, young people have become more likely to participate in post-school education and to obtain qualifications than in the past (for more information see Australian Social Trends 2005, Multiple qualification holders).
Consistent with this, people in their 20s (and in particular those in their early 20s) in 2001 were more likely to be attending an educational institution than those in the same age group in 1976 (23% compared with 12%). Throughout the 20th century, women's participation in post-school education was lower than men's. However, in 2001, 24% of women aged 20-29 years were attending an educational institution compared with 23% of men in this age group. In 1976, the proportion of women aged 20-29 years attending an educational institution was almost half that of men in the same age group (9% and 16% respectively).
The increased likelihood in 2001, compared with 1976, to be participating in education, occurred for both men and women and for all ages between 20 and 29 years. However, the differences were greatest for people in their early 20s, decreasing with each successive year of age. This suggests that, although there has been an increase in the propensity to return to study in later life, young people going directly onto study after leaving school, or after taking a relatively short break, account for much of the increase in educational participation since the mid-1970s.
Following on from this, more people in their 20s in 2001 had obtained a non-school qualification, than in 1976 (45% compared with 31%). Further, over the 25-year period, the type of qualifications gained changed, reflecting a shift towards higher education and away from vocation education. In 2001, of people in their 20s with a qualification, 36% indicated their highest qualification was a bachelor degree compared with 13% in 1976. And while a certificate was still the most common highest educational qualification obtained among people in their 20s in 2001 (44%), the proportion of people in this age group who indicated this was their highest qualification in 1976 was much higher (67%).
Much of the growth in the proportion of people with Bachelor degrees is related to the increase in the proportion of women in their 20s who held such qualifications. In 2001, 43% of women aged 20-29 years with non-school qualifications indicated their highest qualification was a Bachelor degree, compared with 12% in 1976. For men in their 20s, the corresponding proportions were 30% and 14% respectively. Further, the proportion of women aged 20-29 years who held non-school qualifications was 45% in 2001 compared with 24% in 1976. For men in the same age group, 45% held a non-school qualification in 2001 compared with 38% in 1976.
Proportion of persons aged 20-29 years attending educational institutions
Attendance at an educational institution
Source: ABS 1976 and 2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.
Persons aged 20-29 years with a non-school qualification: highest level of qualification
Over the latter half of the 20th century, people's participation and experiences in the labour force changed, along with the nature of paid work itself. Many of these changes are evident in the differing levels of participation for people in their 20s in 2001 and 1976. The labour force participation for people aged 20-29 years in 2001 was higher than in 1976 (81% and 75% respectively). However, this increase was driven entirely by increased participation for women in this age group over the period (75% in 2001 compared with 57% in 1976). This reflects increasing opportunities for women to participate in a greater variety of paid work, in some cases while studying or raising children, and to delay having children throughout most of their 20s (for more information see Australian Social Trends 2003, Changes in labour force participation across generations). In contrast, participation for men in their 20s was lower in 2001 (87%) than in 1976 (92%), largely reflecting increased participation in education beyond school for people in this age group over the 1980s and 1990s.
For men in their 20s, the reduced likelihood to be participating in the labour force in 2001 compared with 1976 was fairly constant across all ages in this age range, although the difference was largest for men in their early to mid 20s - the ages when educational participation was also highest. For women in their 20s a different picture emerges. The higher participation rates for women in 2001 compared with 1976 are most marked from the age of 23 years onwards. This is consistent with delayed fertility among women in their 20s and a greater propensity to continue to work while raising children in 2001, while women in their 20s in 1976 were more likely to have children and to leave the labour force completely while raising them.
Labour force participation rates in 2001 and 1976 were the most similar for women in their early 20s (within 10 percentage points of one another, compared with differences of over 20 percentage points for women in their late 20s). However, the reasons for and nature of their participation differed. In 2001, women in their early 20s were more likely to be working part-time while studying before moving into full-time work. Those in the same age group in 1976 were more likely to be working full-time before having children in their mid-20s.
In addition to changes in labour force participation over the last three decades of the 20th century, there were changes to the nature of paid work itself, most particularly in relation to the number of hours worked each week and the availability of part-time jobs. Because they were more likely to be participating in education (particularly in their early 20s) or to be combining work and family responsibilities (mainly women in their late 20s), people in their 20s in 2001 were more likely to be working part-time than those in this age group 25 years earlier. This is reflected in average hours worked per week. In 2001, 28% of employed people aged 20-29 years worked less than 35 hours per week on average. In 1976, 11% of employed people in this age group worked less than 35 hours per week.
In addition, employed people in their 20s in 2001 were less likely to work an average of 40 hours per week than their counterparts in 1976 (22% compared with 52%), reflecting a shift away from standard working hours over the period. However, they were more likely to work longer hours on average - 28% of employed people in their 20s worked more than 40 hours a week in 2001, compared with 22% in this age group in 1976 (for more information see Australian Social Trends 2003, Longer working hours).
Persons aged 20-29 years: labour force participation rates
Source: ABS 1976 and 2001 Censuses of Population and Housing.
Employed persons aged 20-29 years: average hours worked
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Marriages collection.
2 ABC Online <www.abc.net.au/archives/timeline/1950s.htm> <www.abc.net.au/archives/timeline/1960s.htm> <www.abc.net.au/ archives/timeline/1970s.htm> <www.abc.net.au/archives/timeline/1980s.htm> <www.Abc.Net.au/archives/timeline/1990s.htm><www.abc.net.au/archives/timeline/2000s.htm> accessed 27 April 2005.