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 for caring. Specifically, women have lower labour force participation and are more likely to work part time.

The Ministry uses the quarterly Household Labour Force Survey to monitor key indicators of women’s patterns of employment, such as 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, unemployment, and employment rates.

Additional indicators include the number of women not in the labour force, the number of jobless women, under-employed women, and the rate of young 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 65.9% 76.5%
Unemployment rate 5.3% 4.1%
Employment rate 62.5% 73.4%
Youth (aged 15 to 24 years) not in employment, education, or training (NEET) rate* 12.8% 9%
Not in the labour force (number) 666,000 440,000
Underutilisation rate 14.7% 9.0%


Source: Household Labour Force Survey September 2017

*These figures have not been annually adjusted.

There are different indicators for different groups of women

Māori and Pacific women experience unemployment at over double the rate for all women.

Young Māori and Pacific women also have much higher NEET rates than young women overall.


The HLFS includes a measure of the underutilisation of labour in New Zealand. This measure provides an indication of 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 327,000 people were underutilised in the June 2017 quarter, which equates to an underutilisation rate of 11.8 percent. The measure is important because it provides a way to better understand the untapped potential in the labour market.

  • At June 2017, the underutilisation rate for women was 14.5 percent, compared with 9.4 percent for men.
  • At June 2017, 190,000 women were underutilised, compared to 137,000 men.