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People who have never worked

This article takes a closer look at the people living in New Zealand who have never worked in paid employment. Although this group is mainly young people, there is a consistent number of people in all age groups who have never worked. The younger never-worked group (15–24 years) show very different characteristics to the never-worked group who are 25 years and over.

The data in this article is from the Household Labour Force Survey (HLFS) June 2016 quarter. The HLFS interviews people aged over 15 years who have been living in, or intend to live in New Zealand for 12 months or more.

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Summary of key points

  • Over the 30 years to the June 2016 quarter, the number of people who had never worked has doubled (112,600 to 230,100).
  • 79.7% of this group was under 25 years in the June 2016 quarter.
  • 72.2% of those aged 25 years and over who had never worked were female (June 2016 quarter).

Longer time series

In the June 2016 quarter, 230,100 people who were not currently working stated they had never worked. This was 6.2 percent of people in the working-age population. Over the last 30 years the number of people who have never worked has doubled.

Figure 1 is a time series for people who have never worked. It shows the percentage of females who have never worked has held relatively steady since the June 1986 quarter – around 6 percent of the female working-age population. However, ‘never-worked’ males increased from 2.6 percent of the male working-age population in the June 1986 quarter, to 5.8 percent in the June 2016 quarter. The percentage of males who had never worked increased rapidly in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when unemployment rose sharply.

Figure 1

Graph, Never worked (as a percentage of the working-age population) and the unemployment rate.

Young people make up most of the never-worked group

15–24 years

In the June 2016 quarter, 183,400 of the people who had never worked were aged 15–24 years. This was 79.7 percent of all people who had never worked.

Within this age group, people aged 15–19 years had the largest proportion who had never worked (48.5 percent of all 15–19 year olds). Almost all of them were still studying and furthering their education. The 20–24-year-olds had the next-highest proportion of people in their age group who had never worked (8.4 percent).

For the 15–24-year-olds who had never worked, 50.4 percent were male and 49.6 percent were female.

Table 1
Percentage of those who have never worked

By age group
June 2016 quarter

 Age group (years)

 Never-worked group
(% of total age group)

 15–19

 48.5

 20–24

 8.4

 25–29

 3.4

 30–34

 1.8

 35–39

 1.5

 40–44

 1.0

 45–49

 1.3

 50–54

 0.7

 55–59

 0.9

 60–64

 1.1

 65+

 1.7

 Source: Statistics NZ

25 years and over

In the June 2016 quarter, 46,700 people aged 25 years and over said they had never worked. Females in this group were more than twice as likely to have never worked than males. Of the people 25 years and over who had never worked, 33,700 (72.2 percent) were female and 13,000 (27.8 percent) were male.

From age 30 years onwards, people who had never worked made up less than 2 percent of their total age group.

Europeans under-represented in the never-worked group

Figure 2 shows that while the European ethnic group made up 74.2 percent of the working-age population in the June 2016 quarter, only 52.5 percent of people who had never worked stated they were European.

Conversely, the smaller ethnic groups of the working-age population made up larger proportions of the never-worked group. The Asian ethnic group (12.5 percent of the working-age population) was 23.3 percent of the never-worked group, while Pacific peoples (6.1 percent of the working-age population) were 15.1 percent of all those who had never worked.

Figure 2

Graph, Percentage of the working-age population and never worked.

Table 2 highlights that the ethnic breakdown of the never-worked group aged 15–19 years was very different from the 20–24-years age group. The older (20–24 years) age group contained a much larger proportion of Asian people who had never worked (37.8 percent) than the younger (15–19 years) age group (15.8 percent).

Table 2
Working-age population and never-worked group (younger age groups)

By ethnic group (total response)
June 2016 quarter 

 Ethnic group

 Working-age population (15–19 years)

 Never worked (15–19 years)

 Working-age population (20–24 years)

Never worked (20–24 years) 

 Percent

 European

 69.5

 60.8

 68.0

 36.5

 Māori

 23.0

 25.2

 17.7

 12.5

 Pacific peoples

 11.3

 14.6

 9.1

 17.1 

 Asian

 12.5

 15.8

 15.7

 37.8

 Note: Totals are greater than 100 percent as people can state multiple ethnic groups.
Source: Statistics NZ

Of the 230,100 people who had never worked in the June 2016 quarter, 56,500 (24.5 percent) stated they were of Māori descent.

Nearly one-third (30.6 percent, or 70,500) of people who had never worked in the June 2016 quarter were born overseas; 40,100 of them were aged under 25 years and 22,000 were still at school. The never-worked people who were born overseas had lived in New Zealand for an average of 10.1 years (median time of eight years).

Most of never-worked group are in formal study/school

Of the 230,100 people who had never worked in the June 2016 quarter, 166,000 (72.1 percent) were in formal study or still at school.

Figure 3 shows that for the June 2016 quarter, 91.7 percent (141,400) of the 15–19-year-olds who had never worked were either still at school or in some other type of formal study. This drops to 63.7 percent (18,600) being in school or formal study for those aged 20–24 years who had never worked, and 38.5 percent (4,400) being in formal study for 25–29-year-olds who had never worked.

Figure 3

Graph, Study status of those who have never worked.

People who have never worked have lower qualifications

Table 3 highlights that those who have never worked have lower qualification levels than the working-age population. This is due to a high number of the never-worked group currently studying to complete qualifications.

However, people aged 25 years and over who had never worked were far less likely to have a post-school qualification, and far more likely to have no qualifications, than the working-age population.

Table 3
Working-age population and never-worked age groups

By highest qualification
June 2016 quarter

 Highest qualification

 Working-age population

 Never worked (15–24 years)

 Never worked (25+ years)

Never worked (all ages)

 Percent

 Post-school

48.9

 4.5

23.6

8.4 

 School

27.8

49.9

26.4

45.2

 None

20.9

44.1

48.5

45.0

 Not specified

 2.4

 1.4

 1.5

 1.4

 Total

100.0

 100.0

100.0

  100.0

 Source: Statistics NZ

Studying the main reason for not wanting a job

Of the 230,100 people who had never worked, 21,000 people (9.1 percent) were unemployed and actively looking for and available to work. The remaining 209,100 were not in the labour force.

Of people not in the labour force 31.6 percent stated they would like to have a paid job, while 66.8 percent said they would not like to have a paid job, and 1.6 percent didn’t know if they wanted a job or not.

The main reasons for not wanting a job were: studying or training (72.0 percent) own sickness or illness (9.9 percent), being retired (8.6 percent), and looking after children (5.4 percent).

Auckland region has highest percent of never-worked people

In the June 2016 quarter almost half (46.7 percent) of people who had never worked lived in Auckland.

Figure 4

Graph, Percentage of people who have never worked.

There were 1,280,500 people over 15 years living in Auckland in the June 2016 quarter, and 107,500 of them had never worked. This was 8.4 percent of the Auckland region’s working-age population.

The regions with the lowest proportions of their working-age populations who had never worked were all in the South Island – Southland had 3.2 percent, Canterbury 4.0 percent, and Nelson / Tasman / Marlborough / West Coast region also had 4.0 percent of its people having never worked.

Income of the never-worked group

Of the 230,100 people in the June 2016 quarter who had never worked, 50,300 received some sort of government transfer income, either from Work and Income, Inland Revenue, Student Allowances, or NZ Superannuation. The average weekly government transfer was $264, while the median was $255.

ISBN 978-0-908350-82-7
Published 11 November 2016

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