Trends in hours worked in Australia

The graph below tells you the average number of hours worked in Australia from 1978 to 2013 per person per month aged 15-64. The key thing to note is that there has been remarkably little change over time in terms of the peaks of the cycle: in 1980 the average Australian between 15 and 64 worked 101 hours a month, and in February 2013 the average Australian worked 102 hours a month, an increase of 1%.



The increase is almost 4% if we compare the 1980 peak with the 2007 peak, but there is an argument to be made that this is because the 2007 peak represents a larger boom than the 1980 peak and that we should really compare it with the peak in the 1960s.

Unfortunately, the data on hours only started in 1978 for Australia so it is actually not so easy to know whether 1980 was really comparable in terms of an economic boom with the very long boom we have had in the 00’s. To look at this a bit more, we can look at data for a country with a very similar labour market structure as Australia that has longer series on hours, i.e. the Netherlands. The graph on this (see below, which is now hours per person of any age so not completely comparable) shows that, indeed, the peak in terms of hours worked per person was in the 1960s and that there was a rebound early 1980s after the oil shocks of the early 70s, but that even the peak in the early 2000’s was not as high as the highs of the 1960s. And in case you are wondering, labour force participation in both countries rose during this period, particularly amongst women, and are currently nearly identical for both countries (63.3% in the Netherlands, 65% in Australia), with the two countries leading the world in rates of part-time work.

Source: centrum voor beleidsstatistiek 04003, Pieter Al and Robert Selten

The moral of the story? After 45 years of dramatic changes in labour laws, welfare provisions, industrial structure and attitudes to female employment, we work just as many hours in formal employment as before.


Author: paulfrijters

Professor of Wellbeing and Economics at the London School of Economics, Centre for Economic Performance

5 thoughts on “Trends in hours worked in Australia”

  1. The distribution of those hours is obviously quite different though.

    We’ve seen:

    -Rising hours per full-time worker per month through the 1980s and 90s, falling in the 2000s;
    -Rising hours per part-time worker per month (from around 1990 onwards);
    -Rising labour force participation among women;
    -Falling labour force participation among men, though it was more or less stable in the 2000s;
    -A rising employment-to-population ratio (peaked at ~57.5% in 1980, ~59.5% in 1990, 62.5% in 2008 for those aged 15+)


    1. sure, quite a few distributional changes. Another important one is the increased concentration of work across households.
      Still, from a macro-perspective it is fascinating to see so little change in the aggregate over such long periods. It makes it hard to believe that the outcomes at the top are not linked to the outcomes at the bottom.


  2. Also, the difference between 101 and 102 hours per civillian aged 15-64 looks to me to be around 100 000 full-time equivalent jobs. That’s not nothing.


  3. Hi Paul,
    I know your graph plotted the data in 12 month intervals, but since you compared it with the Feb figure for 2013, it would have been nice if this point was also on the graph. Sorry, but it is the scientist in me – I like pictures.

    A very interesting article nonetheless, which raises some questions about policy.


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