1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2005  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 21/01/2005   
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Mature age workers

Over the past decade much social and economic debate has focused on the issues associated with Australia's ageing population. Between 2011 and 2030, the large generation born between 1946 and 1965, known as 'baby boomers', will turn 65 years old. Such a large number of people set to retire from Australia's workforce over the next few decades brings the possibility of a shortage of labour to meet future demands.

In recent years, the retention of mature age workers (for the purpose of this article, mature age workers are defined as employed people aged 45-64 years) in the labour force has been highlighted as a possible solution to the potential shortage of labour, (footnote 1) and has been the focus of certain public policy goals. (footnote 2) These policies include gradually increasing the age at which women can access the age pension, ongoing increases to the minimum age for accessing superannuation benefits, and the introduction of incentives for workers who stay on in employment beyond the Age Pension age (e.g. the Pension Bonus Scheme).

This article focuses on the characteristics of mature age workers. It looks at where mature age workers are employed and the difficulties mature age people can face in gaining employment.

Labour force participation and age

Some people retire or leave the labour force well before their 60s. This is reflected by lower labour force participation rates for men and women from their 40s and 50s onwards. In 2003-04 most men (87%) aged 45-54 years were participating in the labour force, as were 73% of women in this age group. Participation rates were lower for older age groups. For those aged 60-64 years the participation rates for men and women were 51% and 28% respectively (graphs 6.31 and 6.32).

In 2003-04 people aged 45-64 years made up almost a third (32%) of the labour force, compared with 24% in 1983-84. This increase not only reflects larger numbers of people entering this age group, as the 'baby boomers' age, but also changes in labour force participation over the period. People aged 45-64 years were more likely than in the past to be labour force participants. Participation rates for this group increased from 57% to 68% between 1983-84 and 2003-04.

This increase in participation has been driven largely by the increased participation of women in the labour force, reflecting a range of social changes, including greater acceptance of, and opportunities for, women in the workforce. In 2003-04 the participation rate for women aged 45-64 years was 60%, well above the proportion participating in the labour force in 1983-84 (36%).


In comparison, participation for men decreased slightly over the last two decades in almost all age groups, although the participation rate for men aged 45-64 years remained stable (77% in 1983-84 and 2003-04).


Characteristics of mature age workers

In 2003-04 there were 3.2 million mature age workers, making up a third of all employed people. Around 44% of these workers were women, the same proportion as that for all employed people. Just over a quarter (26%) of mature age workers were employed part-time, compared with 23% of employed 25-44 year olds. Men are generally less likely to work part-time than women, and this is true of mature age workers. In 2003-04, 11% of male mature age workers were employed part-time compared with 45% of their female counterparts.

The proportion of men working part-time increased from 8% for 45-49 year olds to 22% for 60-64 year olds. For women, the proportion working part-time was 42% for ages 45-49 years, increasing to 57% for those aged 60-64 years.

Both male and female mature age workers are more likely to work part-time as they approach retirement age, and this appears to be largely by choice. Overall, mature age part-time workers are less likely to want more hours of work (21%) than part-time workers aged 25-44 years (27%). In 2003-04 the proportion of people working part-time who wanted more hours was 24% for 45-54 year olds, 18% for 55-59 year olds, and 13% for 60-64 year olds.

Where are mature age workers employed?

Mature age workers generally have skills and experience gained through many years in the workforce. In 2003-04 the education industry employed the highest proportion of mature age workers, with 47% of people employed in this industry aged 45-64 years. The health and community services industry employed the next highest proportion of mature aged workers in 2003-04 (42%), followed by electricity, gas and water supply, government administration and defence, and agriculture, forestry and fishing industries, with 41% of workers in each of these industries aged 45-64 years. The high proportion of mature age workers in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry is consistent with the trend for fewer young people to enter farming as a vocation and with farmers often working beyond the age of 65 years.

Many occupations with relatively high proportions of mature age workers require higher skill levels. In the broad occupation group managers and administrators, 47% (332,800 people) were aged 45-64 years in 2003-04, followed by 38% (144,300 people) in advanced clerical and service workers, and 37% (666,400 people) in the professionals group. Of the mature age workers who were employed in the broad occupation group professionals, 12% were registered nurses, 10% were primary school teachers and 9% were secondary school teachers. Some occupations with lesser skill requirements also contained large numbers of mature age workers. In 2003-04, 483,200 intermediate clerical, sales and service workers, 291,000 intermediate production and transport workers, and 277,500 labourers and related workers were aged 45-64 years.

Difficulty finding work

The unemployment rate for mature age persons tends to be lower than most other age groups. In 2003-04 the unemployment rate for 45-64 year olds was 3.6% (table 6.33), representing 119,100 people. In comparison, the unemployment rate for 25-44 year olds was 4.9%. Over four-fifths (82%) of mature age jobseekers were seeking full-time work, a similar proportion to that for 25-44 year olds (81%).

While 45-64 year olds have lower unemployment rates than those in the labour force generally, unemployed people in this age group often have more difficulty in obtaining work than younger jobseekers and are, therefore, at risk of remaining unemployed for a long time. In 2003-04, 32% of unemployed persons aged 45-54 years, and 44% of those aged 55-64 years, were long-term unemployed (i.e. had been unemployed for 52 weeks or more). This is noticeably higher than the proportion among unemployed 25-44 year olds (23%).

Consistent with the difficulties people aged 45-64 years may face finding work over a long period of time, they are more likely to become discouraged and drop out of the labour force altogether than people in younger age groups. In September 2003 more than half (52%) of all discouraged job seekers were aged 45-64 years.


Mature age persons

45-54 years
55-64 years
45-64 years
25-44 years

Unemployment rate
Proportion of unemployed looking for full-time work
Proportion of unemployed who are long-term unemployed

(a) Annual averages.

Source: ABS data available on request, Labour Force Survey.


1 Department of the Treasury 2004, Australia's Demographic Challenges, Treasury, Canberra. <Back

2 Department of Health and Ageing 2002, National Strategy for an Ageing Australia, DoHA, Canberra. <Back