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Mature-age women at work: undervalued at best, invisible at worst

By Nareen Young - posted Friday, 8 March 2013

Mature-age women earn only two thirds of the income of mature-age men, have significantly lower workforce participation than men, are more likely to be underemployed than men and retire earlier with around half the superannuation of men of the same age.

ABS statistics present a pretty depressing picture of mature-age women (defined as 45 years plus) being consistently underemployed and underutilised.

Women aged in their fifties and above earn 37% less than men of the same age. Women between 45 and 65 are more highly represented among casual workers than men and are twice as likely to have a job with no leave entitlements than men.


Only 47.1% of women aged between 45 and 74 are employed full time compared to 76.9% of men. More than half of mature-age women work part time and 18% of these women (that is 164,500 women) would like to increase the number of hours they work.

The percentage of mature-age female discouraged job seekers has remained consistently higher than that of male discouraged job seekers for most of the last two decades. Close to half a million more mature-age women than men (452,300) are discouraged job seekers. Moreover,

women retire earlier than men (at 49.6 years of age vs 57.9 for men) and with half the superannuation of men although, on average, women live another 3 to 4.5 years longer than men.

Employers need to take a good look at why mature-age women are being left out. Apart from traditionally female-dominated sectors such as teaching and nursing, I am often struck by how few older women I see in many corporate workplaces. I can't help but think mature-age women really are invisible at work. But in an era of skills shortages and an ageing population, it makes no sense that these women are so undervalued.

One contributing factor is that the burden of care for older, frail family members usually falls on middle-aged women – increasingly at the same time as they are still caring for children. More disturbingly though is that discrimination might be at play – the most common reason given by female discouraged job seekers for not seeking work is that they were considered too old by employers.

Research clearly demonstrates significant benefits for organisations and the wider economy from attracting, engaging and retaining female mature-age workers.


The Productivity Commission said increasing older women's labour participation rates to match men's could increase per capita GDP growth to 2044-45 by 1.5%.

Organisations can gain an average net benefit of $1,956 per mature-age employee per year, generated from a combination of higher retention rates, lower rates of absenteeism and decreased recruitment costs, according to DEEWR.

An Ernst & Young study said workers aged 65+ have the highest productivity and motivation levels, suggesting that life stage and experience are key drivers of productivity and motivation.

Research for the World Economic Forum said a range of mature-age workforce productivity benefits accrue such as the provision of a depth of knowledge to clients and colleagues and being less likely to be absent or quit their jobs.

In partnership with the Australian Human Rights Commission and sponsored by National Australia Bank, with SageCo, Diversity Council Australia is conducting important research on how Australian organisations can implement workforce solutions that better harness the skills and talents of Australia's female mature-age workforce. Called, Grey Matters to Women: Attracting, Engaging & Retaining Your Female Mature Age Workforce, the results will be released in May 2013.

This International Women's Day, I urge employers to address the critical underutilisation of mature-age women in the workforce and prevent this colossal waste of talent.

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About the Author

Nareen Young is the CEO of the Diversity Council Australia.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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