Labour force participation

Employment has far-reaching and positive outcomes for women and their families, as well as being important for growing the New Zealand economy.

Women are participating in employment at higher rates than ever before.  Since 1986 the female labour force has increased by more than 50 percent and internationally New Zealand’s female labour force participation rate is above the OECD average.

Women and men have quite different patterns of participation in the labour market, principally because women take time out to care for their children.  Specifically, women have lower labour force participation, are more likely to work part time, and earn less than men.

The Ministry uses the Household Labour Force Survey to monitor key indicators of women’s patterns of employment, such as the female labour force participation rate (i.e. the proportion of working age (15 years and above) women who are in the labour force), the female unemployment rate (i.e. the proportion of women (15 years and above) in the labour force who are not in work, but are actively seeking and are available for work) and the employment rate (i.e. the proportion of working age women who are employed).

Additional indicators include the number of women not in the labour force, the number of jobless women and the rate of women not in employment, education or training (NEET).

The following table gives the most recent information on employment rates.

  Female Male
Labour force participation rate 64.6% 75.2%
Unemployment rate 5.4% 4.7%
Employment rate 61.1% 71.6%
Youth (aged 15 to 24 years) not in employment, education, or training (NEET) rate* 12.3% 8.5%
Not in the labour force (number) 675,000 450,000
Underutilisation rate 15.6% 10.1%

Source: Household Labour Force Survey June 2016
*These figures have not been annually adjusted.

New underutilisation measure

The HLFS includes an official measure of the underutilisation of labour in New Zealand. This measure provides an indication of the potential labour supply and includes: people who are employed but want to work more hours (underemployed), those who want a job but are not currently actively looking or available to start work, and people who are unemployed by the official definition.

A total of 342,000 people were underutilised in the June 2016 quarter, which equates to an underutilisation rate of 12.7 percent. The measure is important because it provides a way to better understand the untapped potential in the labour market.

  • At June 2016, the underutilisation rate for women was 15.6 percent, compared with 10.1 percent for men.
  • At June 2016 200,400 women were underutilised, compared to 141,600 men.
  • In the year to June 2016, the underutilisation rate for women decreased to 15.6 percent, from 16.5 percent in June 2015. Men’s underutilisation rate decreased very slightly to 10.1 percent, from 10.2 percent in June 2015.