Women in Australia were less likely to secure employment after graduation in 2020 – and the trend for men is moving in the opposite direction

Businesswomen discussing over desktop PC in office. Female colleagues are looking in computer monitor. They are at workplace.
  • 40,000 fewer women with bachelor degrees were employed in November 2021 compared to January 2020, according to a report released on the impact of the Covid crisis on Australian women.
  • It also shows there was a surge in the number of young women who dropped out of higher education last year.
  • Young people were already struggling to enter the job market before the pandemic hit.
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Young women with university degrees seem to have been more negatively affected than men by the pandemic-induced recession, according to a new report released by the Grattan Institute investigating the impact of the pandemic and recession on Australian women.

The report presents data that shows there were 40,000 fewer women with bachelor degrees employed in November last year than at the start of 2020, with the trend for men moving in the opposite direction.

This compounds with evidence that unemployment is most common for younger Australians in the pandemic recovery with 17% of 18-24-year-olds unemployed as of January 2021.

More women dropped out of study

Covid also appears to have affected women’s participation in higher education.

The report found that more than 40,000 fewer Australian women aged 25-44 were enrolled in study in May 2020 compared to May 2019.

It also showed a widespread drop in enrolment in higher education, which leads to delayed entry to the job market and increased earning potential as a result of increased qualifications.

The numbers show plummeting enrollment for both men and women, with the biggest fall in higher education enrolments in more than 15 years occurring in May 2020, at the height of the first lockdown.

Young Aussies struggling even before Covid hit

Young Australian were already struggling to gain a foothold in the job market even before Covid hit.

This is a result of slower economic growth over the past decade, as well as increasing employment of older Australians since the global financial crisis crowding them out.

Research conducted by The University of Melbourne estimates that ‘crowding out’ reduced the proportion of young Australians aged 15 to 24 years in employment by 4-5% since the global financial crisis just over a decade ago.

The result? More young people are long-term unemployed — or have had to gain full-time work through part-time work, with many of those hours representing unpaid time in unpaid internships, for example.

Young Australians are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 recession, facing a weak job market when making the transition from education to work.

‘Faster than expected’ employment recovery — but a long way to go

While the employment bounce-back has been faster than expected, it is still incomplete, the report says.

In January 2021 there were still 55,000 fewer women and 9,000 fewer men in jobs than before the crisis.

The report also offers some recommendations to build a recovery that better incorporates majority-women sectors, including arts and recreation, hospitality and retail.

The Federal Government should build a broader-based recovery, it says, with additional stimulus to overlooked sectors, especially hospitality, universities, and tourism.

This will help bring down unemployment faster and support women’s jobs, as well as strengthen support for people still out of work.

Making childcare cheaper remains the “biggest thing the Government can do to support women’s employment,” the report concludes.

“A longer-term focus on the care economy would boost economic growth and improve the living standards of all Australians, while reducing women’s economic disadvantage.”