Occupational wages in Australia 2002-2012

I was looking for evidence recently that tradies in Australia have become amongst the highest paid groups, which would means a profound change in relative rewards in that it would mean that smart young men could then rationally choose not to bother with university but simply become a tradesman. Doing so, I came across an interesting set of graphs that tell you about general changes in weekly wages from 2002 and 2012.

The picture for 2012, just brought out by the ABS, is here:


And the equivalent picture for 2002 from which we can deduce some interesting changes is here:


Now, on top of the 2013 press release about the 2012 figures, three important changes seem worth highlighting between these dates:

  1. The ‘professionals’ have overtaken all the other occupations, including the managers. Indeed, considering that in 2002 the managers were lumped in with the administrators in the data but still earned more than the professionals, the relative increase has been quite spectacular, in the order of 30% or so. What is included in the term ‘professionals’ I hear all you interested mums and dads ask who have to advise the kids what to become? It includes medics, scientist, consultants and other people with high levels of academic-style education and skills. So the brains now earn more than the managers. Interesting.
  2. In 2013, the only occupations where women earn about the same as men are the professionals and the administrators. The difference in the other occupations is large, and in some it is becoming larger. Particular amongst managers, the difference has at least doubled since 2002, whilst the gap has closed for administrators and the other professions. Still, in 2013, girls shouldn’t bother with becoming tradies, machine operators, or labourers: they earn way less than the boys in those occupations, even though the gap in those occupations seems to reduce, unlike for managers.
  3. The implied wages for ‘tradespersonstechnicians and related workers’ seems only equal to average wages according to this data. However, I am a bit hesitant about believing that, because tax avoidance is easier amongst tradies and hence surely more of an issue with this official data. If one thus looks at the data gathered by an industry group that mainly targets tradies outside of mining (see here) you see that they find that median wages amongst full-time tradies are quite a bit higher than what is reported here (65,000 per year), nearly 20% higher than median wages in other industries. Their broken-down figures also tell you what you expect, which is that he more technical tradie jobs, like boilermaker or electrician, earn a lot more than general handyman (easily 50%). In short, being relatively more technical pays in that occupation group too.

The take-away message of this is that ‘tech skills’ in general seem to have increased in pay-off in the last 10 years and that women looking for high equal pay should join in with the human capital driven professionals and thus go to university whilst smart boys have the choice between academic or tradie jobs to make a good living. The networkers are left with a fight over the managerial positions.

Author: paulfrijters

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

One thought on “Occupational wages in Australia 2002-2012”

  1. How about title inflation? “Manager” is a vague term, and it’s possible that people are given a manager title without a change in what they actually do or earn. If true, that would lower the median wage of “managers” even if actual managers’ wage is up. For example, at universities senior managers earn much more than professors, but there are also lots of people doing quite junior admin work with a manager title.


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