Barriers and Incentives to Labour Force Participation, Australia

Latest release

Factors that influence how people participate in the labour market and the hours they work

Reference period
2020-21 financial year

Key statistics

  • The most common reason women were unavailable start a job or work more hours within four weeks was 'Caring for children', while for men it was 'Long-term sickness or disability'.
  • The most important incentives for people to seek a job or more hours were the "ability to work part-time hours" and "finding a job that matches skills and experience."

More frequent and detailed data on Barriers and Incentives

On 8 September 2022, the Australian Government announced additional funding for the Australian Bureau of Statistics to more frequently measure barriers and incentives to labour force participation

With this funding, the ABS will now release data on barriers and incentives every year (rather than every two years), with a range of key measures released on a quarterly basis.

To improve the usefulness of barriers and incentives data, the ABS has improved how key population groups are identified and presented in this release. Revised data back to 2014-15 has also be included in this release.     

The ABS is also partnering across the Australian Public Service to identify data that can provide information on how different groups of people participate in the labour market. Further initiatives are described below in Making greater use of other data.

Related data can also be found in the annual Participation, Job Search and Mobility topic, which is collected in conjunction with the Labour Force Survey every February (see Potential workers and Underemployed workers).

Barriers and Incentives microdata in DataLab

Barriers and Incentives to Labour Force Participation microdata from 2014-15 to 2020-21 is now available in ABS DataLab, released as a supplementary file for the Longitudinal Labour Force (LLFS) microdata. All existing users of the LLFS microdata will automatically get access to the additional file and new users can apply for access to both files. 

A detailed data item list for the Barriers and Incentives microdata is available in Microdata and TableBuilder: Barriers and Incentives to Labour Force Participation.

Overview

In 2020-21, of the 19.6 million people aged 18 years and over:

  • there were 11 million people who did not work full-time
  • there were around 4 million people not participating in the labour force (excluding retirees and those unable to work), of whom 26% wanted a job 
  • there were around 1 million people working less than 16 hours, of whom 37% would like to work more hours
 Employed part-timeNot employed
 

Usually works 16-34 hours

Usually works 0-15 hours

Had a job to start or return to

People aged 18 years and over

2,893,300

1,061,300

246,700

Would like to work more hours

730,000 (25%)

389,800 (37%)

-

Did not want more hours

2,163,300 (75%)

671,500 (63%)

-

 

 Not employed
 

Unemployed looking for work

Not in the labour force

Retired or unable to work

People aged 18 years and over

718,900

3,744,600

2,396,100

Would like a job

718,900 (100%)

967,700 (26%)

-

Did not want a job

-

2,776,900 (74%)

-

 

COVID-19 Impacts

The latest data presented in this release of Barriers and Incentives to Labour Force Participation was collected between July 2020 and June 2021 and reflects the labour market conditions at that time. ABS advises caution when analysing the reasons why people were not or could not work during this time. As seen in other ABS releases, the increase in people reporting 'Other' for some questions reflects pandemic-related factors.  

Wanted a job or more hours

There were 2.8 million people who did not work full-time and wanted a job or preferred to work more hours. Determining whether these people were available to work or work more hours is important because those who are available have a greater potential to participate or increase their participation in the labour force than those who are not available.

Of the 2.8 million people who wanted a job or preferred to work more hours, most (2.4 million) were available to start within 4 weeks.

385,700 people were not available within four weeks or did not know when they could start a job or work more hours.

  • The main reason women were unavailable to start work was "Caring for children" (25%). This was higher for mothers with children under 15 years (56%).
  • The main reason men were unavailable to start work was "Long-term sickness or disability" (35%). 
  • For those with a long term health condition, a third indicated their main reason was "Long-term sickness or disability", while two-thirds indicated another reason.
  • Availability refers to the reference week (last week) or within four weeks.
  • Data on the main reason is presented. More than one reason can be provided and is available in the microdata as "All reasons not available to start work or more hours."
  • Data sourced from Table 04 in Data downloads. State breakdowns and revised estimates for previous years are also available in Table 04. 
  • Availability refers to the reference week (last week) or within four weeks.
  • Data on the main reason is presented. More than one reason can be provided and is available in the microdata as "All reasons not available to start work or more hours."
  • People with a long-term health condition are based on their responses to questions related to identifying a range of health conditions. This is asked separately from the main reason why they are not available to work or work more hours, and they are able to choose a main reason other than "long-term health condition or disability."
  • Data sourced from microdata available in DataLab. Data will be added to the Excel Tables in the next release.

The main reasons provided by mothers who indicated childcare was the main reason they were unavailable included:

  • Preferred to stay home and look after their children (37%), and
  • Children were too young or too old for formal childcare (29%).
  • Availability refers to the reference week (last week) or within four weeks.
  • Mothers refers to women with children aged under 15 years.
  • Data sourced from microdata available in DataLab.

Difficulty finding a job or more hours

Of the 2.4 million people who wanted a job or more hours and were available to start, just over half (54%) were looking for work (1.3 million).

The main difficulties reported for finding work or more hours included:

  • Other difficulties (likely including a range of pandemic-related factors during 2020-21) – 23%
  • Too many applicants for available jobs – 19%
  • No jobs or vacancies in locality, line of work or no jobs at all – 16%
  • Lacked necessary training, qualifications or experience – 12%
  • Data on the main difficulty is presented. More than one difficulty can be provided and is available in the microdata as "All difficulties finding work or more hours."
  • Data sourced from Table 07 in Data downloads. State breakdowns and revised estimates for previous years are also available in Table 07. 
  • Data on the main difficulty is presented. More than one difficulty can be provided and is available in the microdata as "All difficulties finding work or more hours."
  • Data sourced from microdata available in DataLab. Data will be added to the Excel Tables in the next release.

Available and looking

Of the 1.3 million people who wanted a job or more hours, and who were available and looking:

  • 720,000 (55%) were classified as unemployed
  • 45,000 (3%) were not in the labour force (these people were not classified as unemployed because they were not available to start work in the reference week, but were available to start within 4 weeks or were only passively looking for work)
  • 540,000 (41%) were employed and usually worked part-time hours (less than 35 hours per week)

Incentives

Incentives to join or increase participation in the labour force were asked of people aged 18-75 years who were either:

  • Not in the labour force, excluding those permanently unable to work and those permanently retired
  • Unemployed
  • People who usually worked part-time (less than 35 hours)

The most important incentive for women was the "Ability to work part-time hours" with 49% of women rating this as "very important."

For men, the most important incentive was "Finding a job that matches skills and experience," with 43% rating it as "very important." 

  • Proportions calculated based on the number of people that rated the incentives as ‘Very important’.
  • Data sourced from Table 13 in Data downloads. State breakdowns and revised estimates for previous years are also available in Table 13. 

Parents with children under 15

There were 2.2 million parents with children under 15 who were not working full-time.

Of the 1.8 million mothers, the most important incentive was "Ability to work part-time hours" (65%)

Of the 340,000 fathers, the most important incentive was "Finding a job that matches skills and experience" (50%).

  • Proportions calculated based on the number of people that rated the incentives as ‘Very important’.
  • Data sourced from Table 13 in Data downloads. State breakdowns and revised estimates for previous years are also available in Table 13. 
  • Proportions calculated based on the number of people that rated the incentives as ‘Very important’.
  • Data sourced from Table 13 in Data downloads. State breakdowns and revised estimates for previous years are also available in Table 13. 

Long-term health conditions

There were 4.2 million people who were not working full-time and had a long-term health condition.

The most important incentives for people with a long-term health condition were the ability to work part-time hours (40%) and finding a job that matches skills and experience (37%).

 

  • Proportions calculated based on the number of people that rated the incentives as ‘Very important’.
  • Data sourced from Table 13 in Data downloads. State breakdowns and revised estimates for previous years are also available in Table 13. 

Available and not looking

There were 1.1 million people who wanted a job or work with more hours, were available within four weeks but were not looking. 61% of these people were women and they commonly reported that "Studying or returning to studies" (13%) and "Caring for Children" (13%) were the main reason for not looking for a job or work with more hours. The main reasons for men were "No need to work" (15%), "Other reasons" (13%) and "No jobs in locality, line or work or no jobs at all" (13%).

Did not want a job or more hours

    Approximately 8.0 million people who were not in the labour force or who worked fewer than 35 hours reported that they did not want a job or more hours.

    The main reason people not in the labour force did not want a job included:

    • Permanently retired, will not work full-time again (39%)
    • No need to work, satisfied, retired (for now) (25%)
    • Long-term sickness or disability (16%)
       
    • Data on the main reason is presented. More than one reason can be provided and is available in the microdata as "All reasons for not wanting to work or work more hours."
    • Data sourced from Table 10 in Data downloads. State breakdowns and revised estimates for previous years are also available in Table 10. 
    • Data on the main reason is presented. More than one reason can be provided and is available in the microdata as "All reasons for not wanting to work or work more hours."
    • People with a long-term health condition are based on their responses to questions related to identifying a range of health conditions. This is asked separately from the main reason why they do not want to work or work more hours, and they are able to choose a main reason other than "long-term health condition or disability."
    • Data sourced from microdata available in DataLab. Data will be added to the Excel Tables in the next release.

      The main reason people not in the labour force did not want a job varies at different stages of life:

      • For people aged 18-24 years - Studying or returning to studies (54%)
      • For people aged 25-39 years - Caring for children (42%)
      • For people aged 40-54 years - Long-term sickness or disability (32%)
      • For people aged 55 years and over - Permanently retired, will not work full-time again (49%)
      • Data on the main reason is presented. More than one reason can be provided and is available in the microdata as "All reasons for not wanting to work or work more hours."
      • Data sourced from Table 11 in Data downloads. State breakdowns and revised estimates for previous years are also available in Table 11. 

      For people who usually worked part-time, the main reason for not wanting more hours included:

      • No need to work more, satisfied with current arrangements (44%)
      • Caring for children (20%)
      • Studying or returning to studies (14%)
         
      • Data on the main reason is presented. More than one reason can be provided and is available in the microdata as "All reasons for not wanting to work or work more hours."
      • Data sourced from Table 10 in Data downloads. State breakdowns and revised estimates for previous years are also available in Table 10. 
      • Data on the main reason is presented. More than one reason can be provided and is available in the microdata as "All reasons for not wanting to work or work more hours."
      • People with a long-term health condition are based on their responses to questions related to identifying a range of health conditions. This is asked separately from the main reason why they do not want to work or work more hours, and they are able to choose a main reason other than "long-term health condition or disability."
      • Data sourced from microdata available in DataLab. Data will be added to the Excel Tables in the next release.

      Making greater use of other data

      While data in this release provides valuable insights into barriers and incentives to labour force participation, and the extent to which they are changing over time, there is a limit to the insights that sample surveys can provide for relatively small groups of people within the population (eg. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples).

      The ABS is partnering with other parts of the Australian Public Service to identify other data that can provide information on how different groups of people participate in the labour market. For example, administrative data provides a greater ability to produce robust estimates of changes over time for relatively small groups of people, particularly when integrated with a large demographic dataset like the Census. For a list of recent and current analysis of large administrative datasets, see Multi-Agency Data Integration Project Research Projects.  

      In addition to point-in-time survey data, administrative data and Census data, the Department of Social Services has noted significant changes in the barriers to labour market participation over time for particular groups in HILDA and other longitudinal studies. For example, that the proportion of Australians with caring responsibilities that are participating in the labour force or engaged in education or training has increased over the past 20 years.  At the same time, the opposite has been true for those with significant disability and health barriers with a proportional decrease in participation. Further analysis of longitudinal data in future years will provide additional insights.

      Data on barriers and incentives will inform the Australian Government's Employment White Paper (the White Paper) and its discussion of labour force participation. The White Paper will provide a roadmap for Australia to build a bigger, better-trained and more productive workforce. As per its Terms of Reference, the White Paper will discuss improving labour force participation and employment outcomes for groups who face barriers in the labour market, including women, First Nations people, and people with disability.

      Data downloads

      Data files

      Previous catalogue number

      This release previously used catalogue number 6239.0*.

      Information related to barriers and incentives is also available in: 

      * Note: Catalogue number 6239.0 was previously used for Information Paper - Review of ABS Employment Statistics, 1981.

      Post-release change

      08/11/2022: Table 1 and Table 16 have been updated to correct an error in the age group data

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