The rise in part-time employment

State of Australia’s Skills 2021: now and into the future

The rise in part-time employment

The part-time share of total employment rose significantly in Australia over the 40 years to February 2020, effectively
doubling from just 15.7% of total employment in February 1980 to 31.8% (see Figure 5) 6

After increasing relatively consistently throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the part-time employment share essentially plateaued during the mining boom, declining slightly, from 28.6% in September 2003 to 28.4% in September 2008 at the onset of the GFC. This was not surprising as mining is predominantly a full-time employing industry. Reflecting the strong rise in mining employment during this period, as well as the surge in construction employment associated with the labour-intensive construction phase of the mining boom, full-time jobs growth was robust, increasing at an annual average rate of 2.8%.

After the onset of the GFC towards the end of 2008, however, the part-time share of employment increased considerably, as employers initially chose to hoard labour and reduce the hours of their existing employees rather than lose staff. Since then, the part-time share of employment has generally been trending upwards.

Figure 5: Part-time share of total employment and female share of part-time employment, February 1980 to February 2020

Figure 5: Part-time share of total employment and female share of part-time employment, February 1980 to February 2020

There are a number of demand, supply and institutional factors which can explain the rise in part-time employment in Australia over the past four decades. On the demand side, a greater requirement by employers for flexibility, as a result of increased competitive pressures and changes in technology, can explain the emergence of many new part-time jobs. Similarly, the significant growth in service industries and related occupations have also provided more part-time job opportunities.

On the supply side, young people are now remaining in education for longer and are combining study with a part-time or casual job. This is discussed in more detail in the section ‘Trends in the youth labour market’ later in the chapter.

There has also been a sharp increase in female participation in the labour market. Generally speaking, women are more likely to prefer part-time work than men because it enables them to combine work and family and caring responsibilities (see the section on ‘Women’ later in the chapter), with a greater proportion of hours spent undertaking caring responsibilities and household chores still being borne by women. In this regard, although the majority of part-time employment is still accounted for by females (68.4% in February 2020), this share has fallen, from 78.3% in February 1980. Men are also taking on more part-time jobs than they did several decades ago. In February 2020, 19.1% of male employment was comprised of part-time jobs, compared with just 5.4% in February 1980. Although a proportion of this may be involuntary, a portion may also be due to the fact that men are now more likely to take on home duties or caring responsibilities than they did decades ago.

Finally, as people are now living longer, there has also been a rise in mature-age participation, with older Australians more likely to work part-time and for much longer as they transition to retirement.

Although the impact of institutional forces on the growth of part-time work is more difficult to discern, one obvious factor to consider is the conditions of part-time work, which are likely to have influenced employers’ and employees’ decisions to pursue part-time work. A number of reforms to Australia’s workplace relations laws (such as the Fair Work Act 2009) have increased the legal requirement for employers to provide flexible working arrangements, to cite one example.

The substantial and sustained growth of part-time work in Australia, however, does suggest that the role of institutions has probably been subsidiary to the broader sweep of supply and demand forces noted above. Although institutions have undoubtedly had some impact on the growth of part-time work, it appears more likely that institutional change has in large measure responded to, and been driven by, changes in the structure of the workplace.



A person is defined by the ABS as part-time employed if they usually work less than 35 hours a week, in all jobs.