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Women and hidden unemployment

By Marie Coleman - posted Monday, 31 August 2009

Men and women do have different life and work experiences: we can surely agree that without getting into inter-planetary explanations.

Moreover, the world in which we all co-exist has changed dramatically in my life-time, let alone over the past 100 years. That is important for the shape of the social institutions and social policies which impact our life and work experiences - although it remains the case that women bear children, and then raise them in most cases.

The recent Australia Institute report, The impact of the recession on women, highlights the disturbing implications for women, for their life-long economic security, and some of the “along the way” consequences for younger school children, of the present state of public policy.


Women’s work-life experience reflects their main responsibility for child bearing and child raising.

Official statistics do not. In fact, they conceal more than they reveal.

The official ABS definition of unemployment is a case in point in that it does not accurately reflect the unemployment experience of many women.

A better indication is the so-called “hidden” unemployment figures. These show that real unemployment is often about twice the official unemployment figures. Annual surveys by the ABS identify those with marginal attachment to the labour market - the hidden unemployed - making up about 6 per cent of the labour force before the recession struck. In critical age groups, for example, ages 25-34 years, women account for 80 per cent of the hidden unemployed.

There is also the category which the ABS describes as outside-the-labour-market. On the face of it this category is irrelevant to the labour market experience of women. However, each month about 2.5 per cent of all employed women leave and go right outside-the-labour-market. About the same number each month come from outside-the-labour-market into employment. So these women are not outside the labour market in any real sense.

The ABS figures tell us even less about those women who disappear right out of the labour market and reappear again. However, as with the hidden unemployed, child care duties are a major influence on women’s behaviour.


The budget papers project an increase in unemployment and a fall in the participation rate. The latter is likely to mean an increase in hidden unemployment as well as the anticipated increase in official unemployment.

When out of work these women do not conform to the expected pattern and many are tied up with household and childcare responsibilities. For policy purposes it is difficult to understand their behaviour and to design labour market and other assistance programs.

The disadvantage women face in the labour market is reflected in their financial resources. Superannuation balances on retirement are much higher for men. However, women’s needs in retirement are objectively greater given their longer life span. The current economic downturn will make it even harder for women to accumulate sufficient resources for a comfortable retirement.

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About the Author

Marie Coleman is the Chair of the Social Policy Committee, National Foundation for Australian Women.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Marie Coleman
Related Links
Business and Professional Australia
Equal opportunity for women in the workplace
Equal Pay Day 2009
National Foundation for Australian Women
The Australia Institute

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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