1380.0.55.001 - Perspectives on Regional Australia: Women's Employment in Urban, Rural and Regional Australia, 2001 Census, 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 17/08/2004   
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Employment is an important contributor to overall wellbeing and quality of life. Employment-related income is a key determinant of the capacity of individuals and households to meet the needs of daily life and employment itself is a means by which individuals may learn and apply new skills, gain access to social networks and develop a sense of self worth (ABS, 2004d).

Across all regions of Australia women contribute substantially to their local economies through their participation in the labour force. The nature and extent of this contribution has changed considerably over the last few decades as a result of various economic and social changes. For example, since the early 1970s laws have been changed to remove marriage bars from employment (e.g. in the Australian Public Service), equal pay rights have been granted and the Sex Discrimination Act has been widely promulgated. Structural changes in the economy, particularly the growth of service industries (increasing the availability of casual and part-time work), flexible working arrangements and increased access to child-care have allowed more women to enter the workforce or to combine work with family responsibilities (ABS, 2003b). In addition, Australian families have become more reliant on dual incomes for their economic wellbeing (ABS, 2003a).

Women residing in rural and regional Australia may face additional employment challenges to those faced by women in urban areas. Employment opportunities for women in these areas may not be as frequent or varied as a result of smaller and less diverse local economies.

This publication explores differences in women's employment across urban and rural areas of Australia and highlights some of the characteristics of women as they relate to the labour force, including full-time and part-time employment, age, industry of employment and post-school qualifications. The data are drawn mainly from the 2001 Census of Population and Housing and represent a snapshot of employed women aged 15-64 years at that point in time. Some comparisons are made with results from earlier Censuses.

The geographical areas used in this analysis have been derived from the 'Section of State' (SOS) Structure contained in the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC), Volume 1, 2001 (cat. no. 1216.0). The Section of State structure divides Australia into various types of urban and rural areas, on the basis of population size.

For the purposes of this report, the following categories have been used to compare women's employment patterns in urban and rural areas. The data for these geographic categories are based on where people were located on Census night (i.e. place of enumeration), which may not necessarily correspond to where they usually live (i.e. place of usual residence).

  • Major urban - urban centres with a population exceeding 100,000 persons (Major urban in the SOS Structure),
  • Medium townships-towns and urban centres with a population in the range of 20,000 to 99,999 persons (part of Other urban in the SOS Structure),
  • Small townships - towns and urban centres with a population in the range of 1,000 to 19,999 persons (part of Other urban in the SOS Structure), and
  • Rural areas - the remainder of Australia which includes towns with a population in the range 200 to 999 persons (Bounded localities in the SOS Structure) and all other rural areas including towns with a population less than 200 persons (Rural balance in the SOS Structure).

While this paper focuses on these four broad geographic categories, it is important to note that employment patterns may vary widely between towns or regions within the same category, depending on local economic and labour market conditions. For example, while the unemployment rate for women in Medium townships may be relatively high overall, individual towns in this category will have relatively low rates of unemployment, while others will have relatively high rates. The impact of local conditions should therefore be accounted for when making assumptions, based on this publication, about individual towns.


Based on results from the 2001 Census:-

  • Women in Major urban areas are more likely to have higher educational qualifications, have the highest labour force participation rate, are least likely to be self-employed, and are less likely to be working part-time.
  • Women in Rural areas are least likely to be unemployed, and most likely to be self-employed, with almost half working in agriculture.

  • In 2001, the labour force participation rate for women aged 15-64 years in Australia was 65.3%, compared to 80.4% for men. Small townships had the lowest labour force participation rate for women (61.1%), compared with 66.6% in Major urban centres.
  • Between 1991 and 2001 female labour force participation rates increased in each of the four broad geographical regions defined in this report.
  • The unemployment rate for women aged 15-64 years across Australia was 6.7% in 2001, which was 1.4 percentage points lower than the rate for men similarly aged (8.1%). Highest rates of female unemployment were observed in Medium townships (8.2%) and Small townships (7.8%), compared to 5.8% in Rural areas.
  • Small townships had the highest proportion of part-time employed women (54.3%) compared with 51.9% in Rural areas and 46.5% in Major urban centres.
  • In each of the four areas defined in this report, Retail trade and Health and community services were the main industries in which women aged 15-64 years worked.
  • The proportion of self-employed women in Rural areas (25.3%) in 2001 was more than double the proportion in Major urban centres (10.2%).
  • One quarter of employed women aged 15-64 years in Major urban centres had a University degree compared with around 17% for both Medium townships and Rural areas and 15.7% in Small townships.