The way we work is changing. New Zealanders are staying in the workforce for longer, the number of two-working adult households is rising, and advances in technology could increase workplace automation.

The welfare system assumes a labour market based on a permanent 40 hour a week job. This is outdated in a world where many people have jobs which are part time, casual, seasonal or uncertain.

We have high participation rates

Participation and employment rates are among the highest in the OECD:

  • Employment rate is 67.7%
  • There are 3.8 million New Zealanders aged over 15 years old*
  • Of these 3.8 million, 2.7 million have a job, or are looking for a job. The rest include those either studying, caring for others, retired or unable to work.

NZ’s current labour force participation is 70.9% (people working or looking
for work); but this is projected to fall towards 60% by 2050.

Particularly among the mature

We have particularly high labour participation rates among the mature:

  • 69% of those aged between 15 – 64
  • 21% of those aged 65+
  • 33% of those aged 55+.

People with disabilities have much lower participation (25.2%) and employment (22.4%).

Gender and work status

Graph shows the numbers of people employed in New Zealand, by gender and work status. Males working full-time make up the largest group of people in employment, rising from around 900,000 people in the late 1980s to over 1.2 million in 2015. Females in full-time employment have the next highest level of employment, rising from just under 500,000 in the late 1980s to 750,000 in 2015. There were just under 250,000 females in part-time employment in the late 1980s, rising to over 400,000 in 2015. Males in part-time employment rose from under 100,000 in the late 1980s to over 150,000 in 2015. [PNG, 25 KB]

1 in 8 are underutilized

Around one in eight of the extended labour force are underutilized,
meaning they are either unemployed or are in part-time jobs but want to
work more hours.


Self-employment has grown, but remains a steady share of total employment.

The effects of automation

OECD estimates around 35% of NZ jobs are at risk of being automated with 9% at high risk – this puts greater priority on upskilling young workers and has the potential result of increasing the number of job transitions over lifetimes.

Workers most at risk of being displaced by automation are more likely to work shorter hours and paid lower wages or are younger.

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*Statistics New Zealand, Labour Market Statistics: September 2017 quarter

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