Employment & economic participation

Work and retirement

Australians are increasingly working to older ages. In January 2018, Australians aged 65 and over had a workforce participation rate of 13% (17% for men and 10% for women), compared with 8% in 2006 (12% for men and 4% for women) (Figure 1).

The rate is likely to continue to increase as the retirement intentions of Australians change. In 2004–05, just 8% of Australians aged 45 and over intended to work until age 70, compared with 20% in 2016–17 [6]. In 2016–17, the average intended retirement age was 65 (66 for men and 64 for women), with just under 1 in 4 (22%) men aged 45 and over intending to work beyond age 70 [5].

Underemployment and unemployment

Some older people are either working less than they would like to or are looking for work. Among people aged 55 and over in November 2017, 6.1% of employed people were underemployed; the unemployment rate was 3.5% of the workforce in that age group [3].

Workforce participation rates among older people have increased over time, and can vary a lot between countries. Australia and Canada have very similar rates (both 13% in 2015). Western European countries have lower rates (for example, 5% in Italy in 2015) while some other Pacific countries have much higher rates (for example, 53% in Papua New Guinea) (Figure 1). Globally, these differences may reflect both the longevity of the older population and the availability of social supports, such as government-funded pensions.

Income, assets and wealth

The government-funded age pension is still an important source of income for the majority of older Australians after retirement. In June 2017, 2.5 million people aged 65 and over received at least a partial age pension, representing 66% of older people [7, 9]. This rate has decreased over recent years, declining from 75% in 1997, when 1.7 million older people received any age pension [10, 11].


Access to superannuation to supplement the age pension has become increasingly important. In 1997, 12% of retired Australians aged 45 and over stated that superannuation was their main source of income, compared with 25% in 2016–17 [6, 5]. However, as compulsory superannuation only began in the 1980s, older people have not yet fully benefited from the scheme: the proportion of people aged 70 and over in 2007 who had never had superannuation coverage was 41% for males and 75% for females [6].

In 2016-17, around two thirds (65%) of people aged 45 or over who were retired reported that they had made contributions to a superannuation scheme (74% of men and 58% of women) [5].

Home ownership

Older Australians have traditionally had high rates of home ownership, which has provided a key financial asset on retirement. However, the overall proportion of Australians 15 years and over who owned their home without a mortgage decreased from 35% in 2003–04 to 30% in 2015–16 [1 ,2]. Similarly, home ownership rates among people aged 65 and over have decreased in recent years, with a higher proportion of older people renting or continuing to pay off a mortgage. In 2003–04, 79% older people owned their homes without a mortgage; this had declined to 76% in 2015–16 [1, 2].


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2005. Household income and income distribution, Australia, 2003–04. ABS cat. no. 6523.0. Canberra: ABS.
  2. ABS 2015. Household Occupancy and Costs, Australia 2015–16. ABS cat no. 4130.0. Canberra: ABS
  3. ABS 2016. Labour force, Australia, Jan. 2018. ABS cat. no. 6202.0. Canberra: ABS.
  4. ABS 2018. Labour force, Australia, detailed—electronic delivery, Table 01: Labour force status by age, social marital status and sex. ABS cat no. 6291.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS
  5. ABS 2017. Retirement and retirement intentions, Australia, July 2016 to June 2017. ABS cat. no. 6238.0. Canberra: ABS.
  6. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2015. Australia’s welfare 2015. Australia’s welfare series no. 12. Cat. no. AUS 189. Canberra: AIHW.
  7. Department of Social Services (DSS) 2016. DSS payment demographic data. Canberra: DSS. Viewed 26 April 2016.
  8. United Nations (UN) 2015. World population ageing: profiles of ageing 2015. New York: UN. Viewed 14 January 2016.
  9. ABS 2017. Australian Demographic Statistics, June 2017. ABS cat. No, 3101.0. Canberra: ABS.
  10. DSS 2013. Income support customers: a statistical overview 2012. Statistical paper no.11. ISBN: 9781925007305. Canberra: DSS.
  11. ABS 2003. Population by Age and Sex, Australian States and Territories, Jun 1997 to Jun 2002. ABS cat. No. 3201.0. Canberra: ABS.