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- 1960s - The tea lady, smoking and the introduction of the pill
- 2011 - Flexible hours, access to family friendly leave and child care
- Changing role of women
- Part-time trends
- Change in industries
- Change in jobs
- Looking ahead
- A brief history of the Labour Force Survey
- Data source and definitions
- Industry and occupation definitions
Footnote(s): (a) Data for August.
Information on people's experience in the labour market - about when and whether they work, in what sort of jobs and for how many hours a week - is a window into life in Australia. It highlights changes in both our economy and society and the interactions between them. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) collects this information through its Labour Force Survey (LFS).
The LFS is the Bureau's longest running household survey and has provided the basis on which the ABS has built an extensive program of labour and social surveys of the Australian population. The LFS provides official statistics about the number of employed and unemployed Australians and their working arrangements. Labour statistics are used by government and business analysts, academics, employee and employer organisations, and the community, and they help in the development, monitoring and evaluation of policy.
November 2011 marked the 50th anniversary of the ABS Labour Force and Supplementary Survey Program. A lot has changed since its humble beginnings when the LFS first started, not only in the way the data are collected and disseminated, but - more importantly - in the numbers themselves. Australia in 2011 is a very different place to the Australia of 1961. This article compares then and now and pays particular attention to a number of important trends over the past half century: the increase of women working, the rise of part-time employment, and changes within industry and occupation.
TIMELINE OF MAJOR EVENTS IMPACTING UPON AUSTRALIA'S LABOUR FORCE
Source: ABS Labour Force Historical Timeseries, Australia (cat. no. 6204.0.55.001), ABS Labour Force, Australia, Detailed - Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 6291.0.55.001).
1960S - THE TEA LADY, SMOKING AND THE INTRODUCTION OF THE PILL
In the 1960s, tea ladies still did the rounds, smoking in the workplace was the norm, and the standard working week was Monday to Friday - nine to five. Three weeks annual leave became the standard across Australia in 1963, and it wasn't until more recent decades that that the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secured personal carer's leave and maternity/paternity/adoption leave for Australian workers. (Endnote 1)
The labour force was characterised by a marked division of the sexes and their expected roles in society. For men, the traditional role was to be the breadwinner and support a wife and young family. Consequentially, part-time work was uncommon and childcare was rare, leaving women the option of either starting a family, or working full time,but not in the public service - it wasn't until 1966 that married women were allowed to work for the Commonwealth Public Service! In 1961 it was common for women to marry young. The median age for first brides was 21 years, (Endnote 2) and it was common for women to have their first baby in their early 20s. The fertility rate was 3.5 babies per woman. (Endnote 3)
In the late 1960s, Australian women began to question the restrictive roles society had placed on them. Many women felt there was more to life than raising children and 'keeping house'. Women marched, protested and pressured governments in a bid to gain equal rights in all aspects of life including the workplace, education, politics and sport. The introduction of the contraceptive pill in 1961 granted women greater sexual freedom, and allowed them to control whether and when they had children. The role of women in society began to be challenged and to change.
2011 - FLEXIBLE HOURS, ACCESS TO FAMILY FRIENDLY LEAVE AND CHILD CARE
Fast forward to August 2011, and the tea lady has been replaced by handwritten notes at the coffee point warning staff to clean up after themselves, and smoking is no longer permitted in, or outside, many offices. Women are starting a family much later in life, having fewer children (the fertility rate has fallen to 1.8 births per woman) and they are often having children without marrying first. In 2009, 35% of the babies born were to unmarried parents. (Endnote 4) The crude marriage rate was 5.5 marriages per 1,000 estimated resident population in 2009, (Endnote 5) compared with 9.2 marriages per 1,000 estimated resident population in 1969. (Endnote 3)
The nature of the labour force has changed remarkably over the last 50 years. Today, people are working an increasingly diverse range of hours and patterns, often related to their stage of life or family circumstances. Flexible hours of work are important, as are access to family friendly leave provisions and affordable child care. As women's labour force participation has increased, there has been a corresponding increase in the demand for child care places.(Endnote 6)
Over the last 50 years there has been significant growth in overall employment, and this partly reflects population growth over that time. There has also been increased participation in the labour force, particularly for women. (Endnote 6) This is largely due to the increased proportion of women returning to work after having children. There is also considerable diversity in how families participate in the labour force. The traditional male breadwinner arrangements have declined since the 1960s, and now both partners of couple families are likely to be employed (55% in 2011).
People have access to more paid leave entitlements and types of leave than those of 50 years ago; personal carer's leave, and maternity/paternity/adoption leave all form part of the family friendly leave provisions which help parents juggle paid work and family responsibilities, the latest being the national Paid Parental Leave scheme which was introduced in January 2011. Other recent changes include the Fair Work Act, 2009, which effectively gives parents and other people caring for young children the right to make formal requests for flexible work arrangements. Finding ways to balance work and family life is a constant challenge, especially for families with young children. Achieving this balance is important for the wellbeing of parents and their children. (Endnote 7)
CHANGING ROLE OF WOMEN
There has been significant growth in employment, and increased participation in the labour force over the last 50 years, particularly for women. Women's participation in the labour force in August 2011 was 59%, almost double that of August 1961 (34%). Changing social attitudes, the availability of safe contraception and planned parenting, as well as adequate child care facilities have all helped to allow women to continue their careers. The growth in availability of part-time work has helped too.
In August 1966, labour force participation for women reduced dramatically during the prime child raising years (20-24 and 25-34 year age groups), with the majority of women never to return to the labour force. In August 2011, the ‘nappy valley’ was no longer evident and labour force participation was a lot higher for women than it had been in 1966.
At the same time that women's participation in the labour force has increased, there has been a noticeable decline in the labour force participation of men (82% in August 1961 to 72% in August 2011). This may be due to greater retention in school and further education, as well as earlier retirement.
Although the number of employed only tells part of the story, it's important to note the proportion of men employed full time declined substantially in recent decades. In August 1966, 80% of men aged 15 years and over were employed full time. By August 2011, this proportion had fallen to 57%. It's difficult to determine the main factors responsible for the decline. One working paper from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research suggests the decline in male employment may be attributable to a combination of factors including changes in patterns in partnering and in the educational attainment and employment status of partners. (Endnote 8) That said, even though the participation rates for women have experienced large gains over the last 50 years, participation rates for men still remain higher, except in the 15-19 year age group.
One of the most noticeable developments in the labour market over the past 50 years has been the substantial growth in part-time work. Part-time workers are defined by the ABS as employed people who usually work fewer than 35 hours per week in all jobs (and did so in the survey's reference week). Part-time work enables people to combine work with other activities and commitments. This is especially important for women with young children and those, primarily young people, who are studying.
Having young children has a large influence on women's labour force participation. Nowadays many women reduce their working hours while their children are young, rather than leave the labour force altogether as was previously the case. In August 2011, the proportion of women working part time in the 25-34 year age group (24%), although lower than for women in the younger or older age groups, was still twice as high as it was in August 1966 (11%).
Part-time work has always been dominated by women: close to three-quarters of part-timers were women in August 2011. However, in recent years there has been an increase in the proportion of men working part time. In contrast to the pattern for women, for men there is a clear U shaped graph: men at the start or end of their working lives are more likely to be part-time than those in the prime working years. Many younger men combine work with study, while those in their late 50s or older may be in a transition to retirement. In 2008-09, a quarter of men in the 55-59 year age bracket intended to retire from working full time and were working part time. (Endnote 9)
PART-TIME EMPLOYED PERSONS AS A PERCENTAGE OF THE POPULATION(a)
Footnote(s): (a) Data for August.
CHANGE IN INDUSTRIES
In the 1960s, Australia was evolving from a nation of largely primary industries - of sheep, cattle and wheat - to one of manufacturing. By the late 1960s refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and cars had become increasingly available to Australians. This is reflected in the industries which employed most people in August 1966; Manufacturing (26%) and Wholesale and retail trade (21%).
In August 2011, manufacturing was a relatively much smaller component of the economy than it was in the past (accounting for just 8% of employed people). The Health care and social assistance industry was the largest industry (employing 12%), followed by Retail trade (11%) and Construction (9%), while Agriculture and Mining only accounted for 3% and 2% respectively of all employed people. The growth in some service industries also reflected a changing Australia; some 77% more people worked in the child care industry compared with just 10 years ago.
Production and service industries
In August 1966, nearly half (46%) of all employed people in Australia worked in production industries. Fast forward to 45 years later, and that proportion has halved to 23%. During that 45 year period, almost all employment growth has been in the service sector, the workforce of which has more than tripled from 2.6 million to 8.7 million, a rise from 54% of all employed people in August 1966, to 77% in August 2011. Meanwhile the number of people working in production industries remained steady at between 2.2 and 2.7 million.
PROPORTION OF ALL EMPLOYED PEOPLE IN THE PRODUCTION AND SERVICE INDUSTRIES - 1966-2011
CHANGE IN JOBS
The type of jobs occupied in the 1960s reflected the more hands on and physical work, predominantly associated with trades and lower skilled jobs, often referred to as blue collar work. The most common occupations in August 1966 were Tradesmen, production process workers and labourers (44%); Farmers, fishermen, timber getters (12%); and Clerical (9%).
The broad patterns of industrial change over the last 45 years can be seen in the occupations in which Australians work today. The shift away from production to service industries has reduced the opportunities for blue collar workers, and increased the opportunities for white collar workers. (Endnote 10) The most common occupations in August 2011 were Professionals (22%); Clerical and administrative workers (15%); and Technicians and trades workers (14%).
PROPORTION OF ALL EMPLOYED PEOPLE IN THE BLUE AND WHITE COLLAR OCCUPATIONS - 1966-2011
Annotation(s): Refer to 'Industry and occupation definitions' box for information regarding blue and white collar occupations.
Over the last 50 years, the LFS and Supplementary Survey Program has provided a window into life in Australia in order to help Australians monitor and understand what is happening in the labour market. While the LFS will continue to offer its perspective into Australian life, the future will hold its own challenges.
As society changes, what we need to know also changes. Future innovations within the LFS such as on-going enhancements to the sample design, a longitudinal Confidentialised Unit Record File (CURF), improvements in the way the ABS disseminates microdata, as well as work to enable respondents to respond via the web, are all well underway. The ABS is also close to finalising a review of the content of the LFS and Supplementary Survey Program, as well as the current LFS product set.
Maintaining a relevant LFS which reflects changes in the Australian labour market is a constant challenge - but it's one the ABS has been meeting for 50 years, and one that we will continue to meet in the future.
1. Australian Council of Trade Unions, About Trade Unions, viewed 28 September, 2011, <www.actu.org.au>.2. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Marriages, Australia, 1977, cat. no. 3306.0, ABS, Canberra, <www.abs.gov.au>.3. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Historical Population Statistics, 2008, cat. no. 3105.0.65.001, ABS, Canberra, <www.abs.gov.au>.4. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Births, Australia, 2009, cat. no. 3301.0, ABS, Canberra, <www.abs.gov.au>.5. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Marriages and Divorces, Australia, 2009, cat. no. 3310.0, ABS, Canberra, <www.abs.gov.au>.6. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Families in Australia Report: 2008, Chapter 7: Balancing Work and Family, DPMC, Canberra, <www.dpmc.gov.au>.7. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009, 'Work, Life and Family Balance', Australian Social Trends, cat. no. 4102.0, ABS, Canberra, <www.abs.gov.au>.8. Black, D. and Tseng, Y. and Wilkins, R. 2009, 'Examining the Role of Demographic Change in the Decline in Male Employment in Australia: A Propensity Score Re-weighting Decomposition Approach', Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series No. 24/09, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, Melbourne, <www.melbourneinstitute.com>. 9. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Retirement and Retirement Intentions, Australia, Jul 2008 to Jun 2009, cat. no. 6238.0, ABS, Canberra, <www.abs.gov.au>.10. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1997, 'Paid Work: Changing industries, changing jobs', Australian Social Trends, cat. no 4102.0, ABS, Canberra, <www.abs.gov.au>.
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