Underemployment

10%

of employed working-age people with disability are underemployed, compared with 6.9% of those without disability.

3 in 10

(28%) of people with disability working less than 35 hours per week do not want a job with more hours.

People with disability

aged 15–24 (23%) are more likely than those aged 25–64 (8.1%) to be underemployed.

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Introduction

Underemployment refers to when a person is employed but wishes to work more hours.

How is underemployment defined?

A person is considered underemployed if they are employed, usually work 34 hours or less per week, would like a job with more hours, and are available to start work with more hours if offered a job in the next 4 weeks.

About 1 in 10 (10% or 99,300) working age people with disability who are employed want to work more hours than they do and are available to start work, compared with around 1 in 14 (6.9% or 773,000) without disability (Figure UNDEREMPLOYMENT.1).

Figure UNDEREMPLOYMENT.1: Underemployment rate for employed people, by disability status, age group and sex, 2018

Column chart showing underemployment of employed working-age people with and without disability. The reader can select to display the chart by sex, by age group, and by disability status. The chart shows people with disability aged 15–24 are more likely (23%) to be underemployed than those without disability (17%).

Youth (aged 15–24) with disability are more likely than people with disability of other ages to want to work more hours—23% (or 26,700) are underemployed, compared with 8.1% (or 70,500) of those aged 25–64 (Figure UNDEREMPLOYMENT.1). 

Although working-age females with disability are more likely than their male counterparts to be working part-time (see Labour force participation), they are also less likely to want a job with more hours. Almost 2 in 5 (38% or 182,000) employed working-age females with disability do not want a job with more hours, compared with 1 in 5 (19% or 92,900) of their male counterparts (ABS 2019).

Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers

Data in this section are sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC). The SDAC is the most detailed and comprehensive source of disability prevalence in Australia.

The SDAC considers that a person has disability if they have at least 1 of a list of limitations, restrictions or impairments, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least 6 months and restricts everyday activities.

The limitations are grouped into 10 activities associated with daily living—self-care, mobility, communication, cognitive or emotional tasks, health care, reading or writing tasks, transport, household chores, property maintenance, and meal preparation. The SDAC also identifies 2 other life areas in which people may experience restriction or difficulty as a result of disability—schooling and employment.

The severity of disability is defined by if a person needs help, has difficulty, or uses aids or equipment with 3 core activities—self-care, mobility, and communication—and is grouped for mild, moderate, severe, and profound limitation. People who ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ need help with 1 or more core activities are referred to in this section as ‘people with severe or profound disability’.


Reasons for not wanting to work more hours

‘No need/satisfied with current arrangements/retired (for now)’ was the most common reason among working-age people with and without disability (49% or 137,000 and 52% or 1.4 million respectively) (Table UNDEREMPLOYMENT.1). This was followed by:

  • ‘short-term illness or injury’ or ‘long-term health condition or disability’ for those with disability (29% or 80,000 with disability compared with 1.2% or 32,200 without disability)
  • ‘home duties’ or ‘caring for child(ren)’ (14% or 40,000 with disability compared with 24% or 638,000 without disability)  
  • ‘studying/returning to studies’ for those without disability (11% or 31,000 with disability, compared with 26% or 684,000 without disability) (ABS 2019).

Table UNDEREMPLOYMENT.1: Reasons for not wanting to work more hours for employed people(a), by disability status, 2018 (%)

Reasons for not wanting to work more hours

With disability

Without disability

No need/satisfied with current arrangements/retired (for now)

49.4

51.5

Illness, injury, health condition or disability(b)

28.9

1.2

Studying/returning to studies

11.2

26.0

Home duties or caring for child(ren)(c)

14.5

24.2

Caring for ill/disabled/elderly person(s)

6.3

2.3

Other(d)

5.6

5.6

Total

100.0

100.0

(a) Aged 15–64 living in households who are employed, usually work 34 hours or less per week and would not like a job with more hours.

(b) Includes short-term illness or injury and long-term health condition or disability.

(c) Includes home duties and caring for child(ren).

(d) Includes permanently retired / will not work again, welfare payments / pension / allowance may be affected, moving house, taking holidays, pregnancy, and other reason.

Note: More than 1 reason for not wanting to work more hours may be reported.

Source: ABS 2019; see also Table UNDT4.

Underemployment case study

The 13th Annual Statistical Report of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey reports on findings from waves 1 to 16. This includes information on the extent to which health conditions limit the amount of work an individual can do.

In the study, a moderate or severe work restriction is referred to as having a moderate or severe disability. The study found that among people aged 15 and over, people with moderate or severe disability:

  • are less likely (53%) to work full-time than those without disability that restricts work (69%)
  • are more likely (31%) to be part-time employed and not want to work more hours than those without disability that restricts work (20%)
  • are more likely to be (16%) underemployed than those without disability that restricts work (10%)
  • who work part-time are equally likely to be underemployed as other part-time workers (35% compared with 34%).

In the study, underemployment is restricted to part-time workers who would like to work more hours, regardless of availability. The analysis includes all workers from age 15 and comprises both employees and the self-employed. Workers are defined as part-time if they usually work fewer than 35 hours per week in all jobs (including any paid or unpaid overtime) (Wilkins and Lass 2018).

The HILDA Survey is a household-based longitudinal study of Australian households and individuals conducted in annual waves since 2001. All household members aged 15 years or older are invited to participate in a personal face-to-face interview. The HILDA Survey defines disability as an impairment, long-term health condition or disability that restricts everyday activities and has lasted, or is likely to last, for a period of 6 months or more.