Employment in the 2021 Census

Analysis of the Australian workforce, key industries, and occupations from the 2021 Census data



This article presents an overview of employment and labour related data collected in the 2021 Census. The Census is a snapshot in time, that occurs once every five years. The employment information collected includes the occupation and industry of the main job a person held in the week before the Census. For more recent estimates of employment and labour data, refer to Labour Force, Australia and for information on how the Census collection differs from labour force data see Comparing the 2021 Census and the Labour Force Survey.

In 2021, the Census was held on 10 August when most states and territories in Australia were under restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 restrictions persisted throughout 2020 and 2021 and impacted normal business activities.

These restrictions affected people’s working hours, attendance at their usual workplace, and resulted in shifts in employment and engagement with the labour market. People who were temporarily stood down or needed to self-isolate during the Census collection period were advised to report their usual income, job role, and workplace before the commencement of COVID-19 lockdowns on the Census form. For detailed instructions on completing the 2021 Census in COVID-19 affected areas, refer to COVID-19 media backgrounders

Employment by age and sex

The population aged 15 years and over accounted for 81.8% (20,785,000) of the total population in 2021. This was an increase of 9.2% from 2016. 58.0% (12,049,000) of the population aged 15 years and over reported being employed in the 2021 Census. This was an increase from 56.1% in 2016.

The female employment to population ratio has increased over time. Fifty years ago, eight out of ten males (79.8%) were employed compared with 36.8% of females. In 2021, the gap between males and females had closed substantially with 58.3% of all females 15 years and older engaged in either full-time or part-time work, compared with 65.0% of males. When comparing 2021 to 1971 Census data, female participation in employment increased across all age groups 15 years and older except for those aged 15-19 years. There was a particular increase in participation in employment during the age window females were most likely to have children (25-34 years)[1] in 2021 (77.4%) compared to 1971 (37.5%).

In 2021, people aged 15-19 years were less likely to be employed than in 1971. This was particularly true for males. The proportion of males in this age group who were employed decreased from 53.1% in 1971 to 42.4% in 2021. When looking at this age cohort, 78.1% were undertaking study in 2021, compared with 54.6% in 1971, showing younger Australians are now staying in education longer than before.

In 2021, older Australians (65 years and over) represented 4.9% of the employed population compared with 2.4% in 1971.

  1. To compare employment, 2021 included 'Employed, worked full-time', 'Employed, worked part-time' and 'Employed, away from work'. 1971 included 'Employer', 'Own account worker' and 'Wage earner'. 

At the state and territory level, the Australian Capital Territory continued to have the highest employment to population ratio (66.9%) in Australia in 2021. Tasmania reported the lowest (54.8%) in 2021. The median age of Tasmania’s population was the oldest in Australia (42 years) which could have contributed to the lower level of workforce participation compared with the other states and territories.

  1. Persons aged 15 years and over

Hours of work

The median weekly hours worked for employed Australians has been 38 hours since 2006. Before 2006 it was 40 to 41 hours.

Historically, males worked more hours than females. In 2021, the median weekly working hours for males was 40 compared with 32 for females. The Census defines full-time employment as working 35 hours or more per week. In 2021, 43.8% of employed females were employed part-time (less than 35 hours per week) compared to 22.6% of males. For both males and females, those who were employed full-time averaged 40 hours of work per week, and those who were employed part-time averaged 20 hours per week. Full-time employment was still the most dominant type of work (63.0%) for both males (74.1%) and females (50.9%) in 2021.

Fifty years ago, the official working week was 40 hours and 74.6% of the employed population reported working 40 hours or more in a week. In 1983, the official working week reduced from 40 hours to 38 hours per week which can be seen in the Census data from 1986.

  1. Total used in calculation of percentages includes 0 working hours and not stated
  2. Data for 1981 is not available
  3. 1976 includes 0-39 hours

In 2021, the 40 hour or more working week was most prevalent among 30-49 year olds and then started to drop from 50 years. The median age of those who worked 40 hours or more in 2021 was 42 years, which was the same in 2016.

When looking at occupation by broad group, the 2021 Census showed higher proportions of Managers (59.6%), Technicians and Trades (47.6%), and Machinery Operators and Drivers (46.7%) worked 40 hours or more in a week compared with other occupations. In contrast, those who were Sales Workers (70.1%), Community and Personal Service Workers (68.6%), and Labourers (65.3%), mostly worked less than 40 hours a week.

Top five occupations who worked more and less than 40 hours, 2021
Worked at least 40 hoursWorked less than 40 hours
School Principals (85.2%)Pharmacy Sales Assistants (87.8%)
Mixed Crop and Livestock Farmers (76.2%)Education Aides (87.7%)
Engineering Managers (Management) (76.1%)Checkout Operators and Office Cashiers (86.9%)
Commissioned Officers (Management) (75.8%)Shelf Fillers (86.1%)
Surgeons (75.8%)Service Station Attendants (84.5%)

The Northern Territory reported the highest proportion of employed people who worked at least 40 hours in a week (43.9%), followed by Western Australia (42.2%).

Census observations on employment during COVID-19

Unlike any of the past censuses, the 2021 Census was conducted while most of the country was experiencing COVID-19 restrictions. This resulted in more people being absent or away from work in the week before Census Night. The 2021 Census reported 6.5% of the employed population worked 0 hours. This is the highest rate of 0 hours worked ever reported on the Census. The 2011 Census was the second highest with 4.1%. The industry with the highest proportion of employees who worked 0 hours in 2021 was Arts and Recreation Services (15.3%), followed by Accommodation and Food Services (12.8%) and Other Services (10.1%).

Gaming Workers, Other Hospitality Workers, and Travel Attendants were some of the top occupations where people had significantly reduced hours because of COVID-19 restrictions on the normal business activities of the Hospitality and Food Service industry.

The state or territory with the highest proportion of employed people who worked 0 hours was New South Wales (9.0%), followed by Queensland (7.0%) and Victoria (5.1%).

Top ten occupations with 0 working hours during the week before the Census Night, 2021
OccupationProportion of employees who worked 0 hours (%)
Gaming Workers35.1
Other Hospitality Workers33.3
Travel Attendants32.5
Vending Machine Attendants30.8
Outdoor Adventure Guides26.7
Beauty Therapists24.4
Sports Coaches, Instructors and Officials23.8
Betting Clerks23.3

Hours of unpaid work

Since 2006, the Census has collected information about the number of hours people spend on unpaid work, such as doing work around the home, providing childcare, or assisting a person with a disability, health condition, or the elderly. For more detailed conceptual information about the hours of unpaid work, refer to Unpaid work and care. By looking into the contribution of unpaid work we can better understand the ways individuals and families balanced paid work with other important family and community commitments.

In 2021, female participation in unpaid domestic work remained consistent with previous censuses. Males were more likely to perform less than 5 hours of domestic work per week (29.4%) than females (18.6%). Over one-third (36.0%) of employed females reported performing 5-14 hours of domestic activity. Employed females performed more hours of unpaid domestic work such as housework, grocery shopping, gardening and repairs compared to employed males. Likewise, one in four female workers (27.0%) performed 15 hours or more a week of unpaid domestic work, compared to only 10.4% of male workers. 21% of females employed on a full-time basis performed 15 hours or more of unpaid domestic activity, compared with just 9.9% of males in 2021.

While performing fewer hours of domestic work than females, the hours for males increased in 2021. The proportion of males performing less than 5 hours of domestic work dropped from 35.6% in 2016 to 29.4% in 2021, with a higher proportion of males reporting in each of the other categories (5-14 hours, 15-29 hours, and 30 hours plus) compared with 2016 and previous censuses.

Female workers also engaged more in unpaid childcare than male workers. This was especially true for part-time female workers, who were engaged in this care in higher numbers (40.4%) compared with male part-time workers (21.9%). Male full-time workers engaged more in childcare (34.7%) than female full-time workers (30.7%). This may be related to the fact that over half of the full-time workers who worked at home were male (52.6%).

Female workers were more likely to participate than male workers in unpaid assistance to a person with a disability, health condition, or the elderly (14.2% compared to 9.5%). However, over half (53.0%) of the full-time workers who provided this unpaid assistance were male.

Industries of employment

Census reported all industries in Australia under 19 broad categories following the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC). In 2021, the Health Care and Social Assistance industry accounted for the largest proportion of the workforce (14.5%). The number of females was higher in service-based industries such as Health Care, Retail Trade, and Education. The number of males was higher in technical and trade-based industries such as Construction, Manufacturing, Agriculture, and Mining.

Similar to the national figure, Health Care and Social Assistance was the biggest industry of employment across all states in Australia but not the two territories. The proportion of people employed in the Health Care and Social Assistance industry was highest in Tasmania (16.9%) and South Australia (16.9%), where the median age of the population was comparatively older. The median age of the Tasmanian population (42 years) was the oldest among all the states and territories in 2021, followed by South Australia (41 years). The median age of the Australian population was 38 years in 2021.

Public Administration and Safety was the biggest industry of employment for the Australian Capital Territory (30.4%) and Northern Territory (19.0%).

Mining came in as the 5th largest industry in Western Australia, making up 7.9% of employment, but ranked as the 16th largest industry nationally.

The ANZSIC is hierarchical which allows users to analyse broad categories or more detailed levels of the classification. At the most detailed (four-digit) level, the top five industries in 2021 were:

  1. Hospitals (except Psychiatric Hospitals) (545,000)
  2. Supermarket and Grocery Stores (300,000)
  3. Other Social Assistance Services (278,000)
  4. Cafes and Restaurants (268,000)
  5. Primary Education (265,000)

Computer System Design was the top industry of employment for males in 2021 (162,000 or 2.8% of employed males), and Hospitals was the top industry of employment for females (422,000 or 7.5% of employed females). Four out of five (84.7%) who worked in the Road Freight Transport industries were males. Similarly, females occupied 85.1% of the employment in the Primary Education industry. Local Government Administration, and Ambulance Services were the top two industries in terms of equal participation from males and females.

2021 Census data shows that males reported higher incomes than females with the total median income for females being $1,053 per week compared with $1,386 per week for males. This in part is due to females being more likely to work part-time than males. The table below shows the median income of the top five industries of employment for males and females.

Top five industries of employment with median weekly income(a) by sex, 2021
IndustryMedian weekly incomeMales employedIndustryMedian weekly incomeFemales employed
1Computer System Design and Related Services$2,234162,0461Hospitals (except Psychiatric Hospitals)$1,398421,735
2Supermarket and Grocery Stores$721136,5212Primary Education$1,259225,820
3Hospitals (except Psychiatric Hospitals)$1,739123,4243Aged Care Residential Services$875213,203
4Cafes and Restaurants$776118,3914Supermarket and Grocery Stores$597163,285
5Road Freight Transport$1,314114,6495Cafes and Restaurants$557149,613
  1. Median weekly income does not include incomes not stated.

Top occupations in 2021

Occupations were categorised under eight broad categories following the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO). Over one-fifth of employed males (20.9%) worked as Technicians and Trades Workers in 2021. The number of employed males who worked as Professionals also increased from 18.9% in 2016 to 20.4% in 2021. Females continued to be more likely than men to be employed as Professionals in 2021 (27.8%) similar to 2016 (25.9%).

Sales Assistant was the most common ANZSCO unit group (four-digit level) occupation reported for both males and females in 2021. Females accounted for about two-thirds (66.0%) of this total occupation group. Registered Nurse was the second most common occupation for females, and for males it was Truck Driver.

The median income for males was higher compared with females in 2021, even within the same occupation. The below table shows differences in the weekly median income between males and females in their respective top five occupations.

Top five occupations with median weekly income(a) by sex, 2021
OccupationWeekly median incomeMales employedOccupationWeekly median incomeFemales employed
1Sales Assistant (General)$612174,2701Sales Assistant (General)$488339,817
2Truck Driver$1,278154,5542Registered Nurses$1,409232,130
3Electrician$1,498129,1023General Clerks$998211,604
4Carpenters and Joiners$1,222112,1424Aged and Disabled Carers$810174,454
5Storepersons$96299,0875Child Carers$767155,386
  1. Median weekly income does not include incomes not stated.

The 2021 Census has seen a change in the demographic makeup of some occupations. For instance, while Truck Driver remained a male dominated occupation (95.7%), the proportion of Truck Drivers who were female increased from 3.3% in 2016 to 4.3% in 2021. Similarly, although females made up 88.3% of Registered Nurses in 2021, the proportion of male Registered Nurses increased from 10.7% in 2016 to 11.7% in 2021.

Growth occupations

ICT Security Specialist was the occupation with the highest proportional growth, which is consistent with Security Science being the top growth field of study by proportion in Australia in 2021. There were more than 13,000 ICT Security Specialists working in Australia in 2021; 84.2% of these jobs were occupied by males. Other Sales Support Worker had the second highest growth rate of all occupations in 2021, and 72.6% of these jobs were occupied by females. Disabilities Services Officer was another top growth occupation that was mostly occupied by females (78.0%). In contrast, Software Engineer was mostly occupied by males (84.3%).

Top five growth occupations, 2021
Occupation2016 count2021 countGrowth (%)
1ICT Security Specialist4,06013,297227.5
2Other Sales Support Worker5,40313,217144.6
3Policy and Planning Manager21,27051,391141.6
4Disabilities Services Officer6,48115,588140.5
5Software Engineer30,62955,19680.2

The 2021 Census showed an increasing number of females employed in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), Mining and Transport related occupations. This shift was significant as these occupations have primarily been occupied by males historically.

Top five growth occupations for females in STEM, Mining, and Transport related occupations, 2021
Occupation2016 count2021 countGrowth (%)
1Delivery Drivers4,2079,244119.7
2Engineering Managers1,3302,809111.2
3Train and Tram Drivers1,0211,95591.5
4Drillers, Miners and Shot Firers2,9275,38483.9
5ICT Support and Test Engineers2,4454,44781.9

With the advance of technology, we can see a decline in some traditional occupations. Fifty years ago, Office Cashier was one of the top five occupations in Australia but in 2021 it had the highest rate of decline. Other clerical occupations like Switchboard Operators, Data Entry Operators, Mail Clerks, and Statistical Clerks have continued to decline in 2021. Digitisation has also reduced the demand for occupations like Leaflet and Newspaper Deliverers, and Door-to-door Salespersons.

In 2021 the number of people employed as a Travel Consultant declined, understandably, due to travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic also affected the number of Chauffeurs and Taxi Drivers, however, the decrease in these occupations may have also been impacted in the previous five years by the rise of ridesharing services.

Top five declining occupations, 2021
Occupation2016 count2021 countDeclining rate (%)
1Office Cashier7,6163,348-56.0
2Travel Consultant19,8158,870-55.2
4Taxi Driver27,19813,803-49.2
5Leaflet or Newspaper Deliverer6,0323,378-44.0


In 2021, the number of self-employed people, who worked in their own businesses as an owner manager, made up 13.8% of the employed population in Australia. Over time, the proportion of owner managers has varied. Fifty years ago, 12.5% of the employed population were business owner managers or employers. In 1991, owner managers accounted for 16.7% of the employed population, before a rapid decrease in 1996 to 8.0%. This coincided with Australia experiencing an economic recession. Since another peak of 16.4% in 2006, the proportion of owner managers has decreased.

Self-employed people were more likely to be males than females in 2021, similar to previous censuses. Almost two-thirds (65.5%) of owner managers were male compared to 34.5% of females. The male business owner manager population was older than the male employee population (median age 49 years compared with 38 years respectively). The self-employed population worked longer hours (median 45 hours per week) than the full-time employee population (40 hours per week).

  1. Total used in calculation of percentages includes 0 working hours and not stated

Occupations in the categories of Technicians and Trades Workers, Professionals, and Managers were more likely to be self-employed or employers. More than two-thirds (68.2%) self-employed or employers came from these three occupational categories in 2021.


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Births, Australia, 2021’, www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/population/births-australia/latest-release, last viewed 28 November 2022
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