As the graph below shows, the proportion of men in full-time work has fallen over time. Every recession the proportion falls sharply and in each recovery it fails to bounce back to its pre-recession level.
When I show people this graph they often offer explanations — it’s population aging, kids staying in education longer, or married men staying at home to look after their kids. But when I look at the data more closely, I’m still puzzled.
Occasionally people will interpret my question is a plea to return Australia to the 1950s where men won the bread and women were detained in fibro boxes surrounded by neatly trimmed lawns. I’ll be reminded that men are not a disadvantaged group and that women’s wages still lag behind men’s.
But despite the helpful explanations and the risk of having my motives misinterpreted, I’m still curious about the data. I suspect it might have something to do with structural change in the labour market — shifts in the demand for different kinds of skill. And I imagine these changes have affected some groups of women too. Perhaps it’s got something to do with the decline of industries like manufacturing?
In the end, I’m not entirely sure how to explain this. Can Troppo readers help?
More graphs below the fold.
Update: An obvious question is: If men aren’t working full-time, then what are they doing? Here’s a chart showing changes in the labour force status of men aged 25 to 34.
Update 2: Here’s a chart for Tel (see comment 4). It shows how the percentage of men aged 25 to 34 not in full-time employment has changed over time. It’s broken down by labour force status — NILF, part-time employed and unemployed.
Update 3: A related issue is the increase in the proportion of men working in casual positions. Earlier this month the SMH’s Paul Bibby reported:
Men have increased as a proportion of the casual workforce from 39 per cent in 1992 to 44 per cent in 2009. There is also a growing prevalence of casual work among the so-called prime working age categories, those between 24 and 54.
It suggests the start of a fundamental shift away from the classic notion of ”male work” as a permanent salaried position based on a 40-hour week.
”You’ve now got quite a large group of prime working age men on casual arrangements,” Dr Campbell said.
There appears to be a growing divide within the casual workforce between the haves and have-nots. More than a quarter of the casual workforce – about 605,000 casuals – are working full-time hours.
At the other end of the spectrum is the large and growing number of underemployed casuals.
Update 4: Conrad (comment 2) links to a recent article in the Economist: Why ever fewer low-skilled American men have jobs. According to the article:
The main reason why fewer men are working is that sweeping structural changes in rich economies have reduced the demand for all less-skilled workers. Manufacturing has declined as a share of GDP, and productivity growth has enabled factories to produce more with fewer people. Technological advances require higher skills. For the low-skilled, low demand has meant lower wages, both relative and absolute. This in turn reduces the incentive to find a job, especially if disability payments or a working spouse provide an income.
… Broadly speaking, this is a common story across the rich world: in virtually all OECD countries male employment rates are lower than they were 40 years ago, and the decline in America’s rate since the 1970s is similar to others in the G7. But in America the timing has been different: the fraction of men in work has fallen especially quickly in recent years.
Update 5: In comment 16 desipis raises the issue of underemployment. Here’s a graph from 6265.0 – Underemployed Workers, Australia, Sep 2010.