Published: December 9, 2019

A new Life Course Centre Working Paper examines the key factors contributing to female underemployment in Australia.

The paper classifies underemployment as those in part-time work who, if given the choice, would take on more hours. Using data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, it finds that age, qualifications and the presence of children at home are leading factors in determining whether females find themselves underemployed.

Among the research findings is the higher likelihood of tertiary educated young females without children to be underemployed than those who are older with no tertiary education and children at home. On the other hand, the rate of underemployment for young females in part-time employment fall when they have children, as they are more likely to be satisfied with working restricted hours to balance professional and home responsibilities.

The Working Paper is authored by Dr Parvinder Kler, Senior Lecturer in Economics at Griffith University Business School and founding member of the Gender Equality Research Network; Dr Azhar Potia, Life Course Centre Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Science Research at The University of Queensland; and Dr Sriram Shankar, Senior Lecturer in Economics and Fellow in the Centre for Social Research & Methods at Australian National University. As well as investigating the determinants of female underemployment, the paper also raises questions about the relevance and accuracy of references and commentary on ‘female employees’ given the significant amount of heterogeneity among female labour force participants. For example, part-time work may be ideal for females with young children, but may not match the expectations of young tertiary educated females with labour market characteristics similar to their male counterparts.

Underemployment is of interest to policymakers in Australia due to increasing rates of part-time employment, and the prevalence of female employees in this type of work. This research highlights the diversity and complexity of the female workforce and the need for a multi-dimensional approach. Policies to ease the underemployment conundrum among females in part-time employment must tackle a multitude of factors encompassing the education, childcare and labour market sectors, among others.

You can read the full Working Paper ‘Nappies, Books and Wrinkles: How Children, Qualifications and Age Affect Female Underemployment in Australia’ here.