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NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment
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This update looks at how jobs have changed over 200 years and some of the reasons behind these trends. We also investigate births in NSW and the relationship with population change.

What's a job in 2016?

Once, a job and a career were one and the same. A job was often for life. In 2016, a career can include many jobs over a working life. It involves more flexibility around how and where we work. Some of this change reflects structural changes in the economy, but also the significant information and communications technology revolution of the last 30 years.


In the mid-1800s, agriculture was the dominant industry contributing up to a quarter of Australia’s gross domestic product.


farming-at-burwood-circa 1858-89-840x421

Farming at Burwood, NSW, circa 1858-89. Image source: The State Library of New South Wales


Even at Federation in 1900, agriculture provided employment to more than 25 per cent of the workforce 1. Australia was famously known for riding off the sheep’s back. During the early-mid 20th century, manufacturing prospered, with the help of tariffs, two world wars, rising incomes and changing consumer demand.


During the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st century, Australia has increasingly become a services-based economy. Services cover a wide range of occupations, including financial services and other professional services. The services sector now accounts for around 75 per cent of all jobs in Australia.



The workplace is also becoming more flexible. Over the past ten years the number of full time employees has fallen as a percent of the total workforce from 75 per cent in March 2006 to 68.5 per cent in March 2016.




Average hours worked weekly are also falling. This is due to a combination of factors including:

  • Technological change allowing workplaces to become more flexible. This helps accommodate employee’s expectations to combine work with other commitments.
  • Casualisation of the workforce seeing employers less willing to offer permanent full-time positions with a shift to contracts and temporary positions.
  • Structural changes in the economy:
    • New service based industries that are less labour intensive
    • Less manufacturing-based, labour-intensive industries
    • Capital increasingly replacing labour in many manual jobs


Average Hours Worked

Does this matter?

Some of the changes reflect our choices.  For example, more flexible hours have enabled female participation in the workforce to climb significantly over the last 30 years. However, the chart below shows that part of the reduction in average working hours is not our choosing.


Underemployment Ratio


The proportion of underemployed (indicating of the number of employed people who want, and are available for, more hours of work than they currently have) has been rising from mid-2008, since the Global Financial Crisis. Currently, almost 10 per cent of employed people would like to work more hours than they receive.


1 Statement 4: Opportunities and Challenges of an Economy in Transition, 2011-12 Australian Government Budget – Budget Paper No 1

It’s a mother boom, not a baby boom

Births have been steadily increasing for almost a decade. What’s does this mean? Is it another baby boom?


Until 2008, the record for the largest number of children born in NSW was in 1971. At that time most babies were born to mothers aged in their twenties, and families had almost three children on average.


Since 2008, the number of babies born each year has been increasing. While there has been a slight rise in birth rates, there is no sign they will return to baby boom levels. NSW women are now having less than two children on average and at an older age than 40 years ago. So what’s going on?


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A mother and children in the early '70s when record numbers of children were being born. Image source: The State Library of New South Wales


It’s largely about the increased number of women of childbearing age compared to the '70s. More than half of all NSW children are born to women aged 25-34 years. This group is also boosted in size by high levels of overseas migration, commonly comprised of young adults.


If this pattern continues, then the number of babies born is likely to increase. Current NSW population projections suggest more than one million children may be born in NSW over the next decade.


As these babies grow up, the demand for pre-school care and primary schools will rise and eventually high schools and post-school education. Unless our population of potential mothers drops, there is unlikely to be a significant drop in the number of babies in the future.



Women in NSW are having less than two children on average in 2016. image source: pictures released under Creative Commons CC0 into the public domain

Latest NSW population estimates

The latest preliminary estimate puts the NSW population close to 7.7 million people. NSW gained 106,116 individuals in the 2015 calendar year. This represents 1.4 per cent growth. This growth rate is the same as the national level and only second to Victoria’s annual growth of 1.9 per cent.




Net migration is the balance of people who arrive into NSW and those who leave. It remains a strong driver of population growth in the State. In 2015, 56 per cent of growth in NSW was due to net migration. Since September 2007, over half of NSW’s population growth has been a result of net migration.


The State’s remaining population growth was driven by natural increase, which is the difference between births and deaths. This estimate may be revised when processing delays for registered births since the December quarter 2014 are corrected.




NSW’s net overseas migration increased steadily from a gain of about 50,000 in 2010 to more than 68,000 in 2015. Since the easing of the mining boom after 2012, Western Australia and Queensland have seen their net overseas migration drop while NSW and Victoria have maintained a gradual increase. This has led to NSW share of Australia’s net overseas migration increase by more than 10 per cent in the three years to 2015, from 26.1 per cent to 38.6 per cent in 2015.


Table 1. Latest state and national population estimates, Dec 2015, ABS.

State Population at December 2015 Change over previous year Annual growth rate (%)
NSW 7,670,742 106,116 1.4%
Victoria 5,996,385 109,830 1.9%
Queensland 4,808,771 59,714 1.3%
South Australia 1,702,785 11,180 0.7%
Western Australia 2,603,899 30,980 1.2%
Tasmania 517,404 2,110 0.4%
Northern Territory 244,031 840 0.3%
Australian Capital Territory 393,013 5,271 1.4%
Australia 23,940,278 326,073 1.4%