Labour mobility in Australia : a study of differentials in movement between localities, occupations and jobs




Mikkelsen, Lene Birgitte Bjorklund

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Labour mobility has been a subject of inquiry mainly within the discipline of economics, which naturally has given more emphasis to economic determinants than to social and demographic characteristics. In recent years one approach, the dual labour market theory, has aroused considerable interest among scholars and policy makers overseas and is claimed to provide valuable new insight into economic, institutional and sociological factors which impede the efficient operation of the labour market. This thesis is an investigation of labour mobility in Australia focussing in particular on differentials between occupations and other labour market groups. By examining several main types of mobility the study attempts to give a more complete view of labour dynamics than has been done hitherto in Australia. Although an interdisciplinary approach has been adopted the orientation and methodology used are demographic with a subsequent concentration on those aspects of labour mobility which are of greatest concern to demographers. Apart from this orientation the thesis aims at being comprehensive rather than detailing any particular mobility aspects, and generalizations are sought which are applicable to the country as a whole. Thus, from the large array of statistics which have been brought together and analyzed in this study the aim has been to provide an overview of labour mobility in Australia between 1966 and 1976. A conceptual framework developed in the beginning of the thesis helps to integrate the various mobility aspects and provides a base for interpreting the empirical findings. The major inputs to the framework were derived from the above mentioned theory of labour market segmentation, from vocational development theory and from the demographic approaches to the life cycle. A main advantage of this multidisciplinary approach is the recognition that both demand and supply factors determine mobility and that both contribute to the subdivision of the labour market into distinctive groups with different mobility behaviour. The thesis shows that in spite of a substantial labour force expansion in the period under investigation, occupational growth rates varied considerably. Underlying the net changes were large flows of workers into and out of the labour force, overseas migration, changes in work force participation and the movement of labour between occupations and industries. Many workers also moved spatially in Australia between 1966-71, particularly within and between the capital cities. This is illustrated by the fact that 44 per cent of all workers made a residential shift and, despite the large distances, one move in four was to another State. Of greater concern, though, to this study was the finding that the likelihood of workers migrating was related to their occupation and more broadly to the labour market segment to which they belonged. A particular question examined was whether relatively homogeneous groups of occupations could be identified on the basis of similar patterns of worker movement. Although, little support could be found for this proposition, it was, nonetheless, possible to determine a number of general attributes of work and career which led to mobility or immobility in the various occupations. In common with spatial mobility, occupational differences in the movement of workers between jobs and occupations were pronounced and largely confirmed framework expectations. In particular, the evidence showed that primary and secondary workers differ in their spatial, job and occupational mobilities, that most moves occur while workers are in the early stages of working life, that a small groups of frequent job changers contributed excessively to the overall job mobility and that the periodic moves of intermittent workers into and out of the labour force substantially influenced turnover levels. On the other hand, the differences found in the mobility behaviour of male and female workers were not always as large as expected. This may have resulted, however, from the severe restrictions on data disaggregation, a problem which seriously inhibited the depth of many analyses. From the insight provided by the framework it would appear that the segmented approach to the labour market, and the view that mobility is conditioned by many personal factors which vary over life, is appropriate for understanding much labour mobility in Australia.






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