The Federation Press

Australian Economy and Society 2001

Education, Work, Welfare


This book considers education, work, and welfare in Australia over the last decades of the 20th century. The authors provide thoughtful analysis and authoritative data on the attitudes of Australians, and to absorbing questions of opportunity. The findings are clear, concise, and often surprising.

  • The strongest bastion of trade-union support is not among factory workers, but among upper-level governmental employees.
  • Australians may feel considerable sympathy for sufferers of life-style related diseases, but hold them responsible for their suffering.
  • Large numbers of Australians find strong attractions in mutually contradictory industrial relations arrangements - often both valuing centralised bargaining and seeing important attractions in local negotiations and individualised contracts.
  • Conflict over unemployment increases more in periods of high economic growth rather than in times of increased unemployment.
  • Parents' participation in literary culture confers distinctive advantages on their children, above and beyond those stemming from the parents' education, wealth, and status.
  • Government attacks on union power in the past decade have been accompanied by a parallel decline in union unpopularity. Australians would not support any further reduction in union power.
  • A worker in a secure job would be as contented earning $10 an hour as a worker in an insecure job earning $14 an hour.
  • Australians are hugely in favour of equal opportunities but strongly polarised over the desirability of equal outcomes.

The book is a major work on contemporary Australia, which should be part of the reference collection in all libraries.


This book should be read and purchased if you are interested in an analytical, concise treatment of a broad range of current social and economic issues that face Australia and a number of other Western countries. Certainly, this individual publication is likely to age reasonably quickly. Its use as both a reference point and source should be seriously considered by those readers with a thirst for well-founded research and/or the need to provide concise content for later-year university students who are easily daunted by extensive academic tracts but who can follow an academic analysis if it is expressed in a brief format. This source can be used by academic educators to build both deeper comprehension and understanding. While some of the technical explanations may be somewhat daunting, the vast majority of the graphical tools used to illustrate points made in in the text are clear and straightforward. This book is recommended for reference lists and to maintain your current understanding of the Australian economy and its society. - International Journal of Employment Studies Vol 13(1), April 2005

The authors examine social differences over time and across nations using their accumulated wealth of survey data. The scale and the scope of their data is impressive, with a total pool of over 50,000 respondents describing their experience of, and attitudes towards, issues as varied as educational attainment, mothers’ employment histories, cultural capital, adult education, labour-force participation, job complexity, organisational downsizing, unions, unemployment, equal opportunity, genetically-modified food, medical care, smoking, pet ownership, retirement and superannuation. Readers of Labour & Industry will find a rich source of information and analysis relevant to industrial relations and workplace change. The book dispels any misconception that quantitative sociology is invariably dry. Evans and Kelley (and their other contributors) possess a gift for describing their research in an engaging manner. The chapters are concise and readable and the data is contextualised with introductions and conclusions explaining how the results shed light on sociological and political controversies. … The analysis presents some sober questioning of the impact of the forces of globalisation and the ideology of neo-liberalism on Australians … In this sense this book is a fascinating companion for Michael Pusey’s recent survey, The Experience of Middle Australia. … In many places in this book, Evans and Kelley come to similar findings to Pusey, especially their impression that most Australians are more comfortable with a hybrid model between the state and market, and the tendency of most Australians to eschew extremes. On the other hand, Evans and Kelley present a more optimistic interpretation of recent social and attitudinal trends than Pusey. … There is enormous potential for academics to use this book to encourage students to explore quantitative research … [The] lively prose brings the statistics to life. Evans and Kelley provide a provocative, stimulating and readable account of social trends from the perspective of those who have experienced the changes within Australian society over the past 20 years. - Labour & Industry, Vol 14(3), April 2004

This important work on contemporary Australia creatively presents data on shared and divergent attitudes among Australians, social trends over time, comparisons among social groups, and comparisons with other nations. The book is distinctive in using large, representative samples of Australians and persons from other nations to make conclusions and inferences …. The surveys are nationally representative and, depending upon the topic under investigation, permit the authors to make generalizations to the populations as a whole. With the improvements in measurement theory and survey questionnaire design, the authors can provide authoritative statements about people’s attitudes and behaviours … Readers concerned about empirical social science will welcome the multivariate models featured in the book, especially since most of its predecessors which aimed for the same grand scale and scope, often omitted multivariate models. … [There are] some fascinating findings in the book. Some of the more notable findings include workers’ desires for job security even if it means less pay; stronger support for trade unionism among public servants than among blue collar workers; Australians’ desires to see the influence of unions no further weakened after many years of sustained government efforts to do so; a tension between Australians’ feeling sorry for their fellow Australians who have suffered from diseases as outcomes of risky health behaviours on the one hand, yet also feeling one must take responsibility for one’s own lifestyle choices on the other hand. And, lastly, a finding that Australians do more complex jobs than their counterparts in five European nations, but that complexity is not the most important determinant of salaries. Rather, the apparent determinants of Australian salaries are status and maleness. The book accomplishes its goal of clearly and concisely presenting its findings and interpreting what they mean for contemporary Australian life. … the work is essential reading and it offers researchers, policymakers, and others concerned about Australia’s future a myriad of social and economic data in one source. If this book is indicative of future volumes in the series, then the series will have great utility. - Journal of Population Research, Vol 20(2), 2003

How many of us enjoy a rousing debate on public policy or social theory? … Many of these discussions, although interesting in their own right, are flush with theories advanced without much evidence. To an extent that’s part of the fun, but this is just the sort of book I’ve been waiting for. The title scared me. I anticipated a dry regurgitation of statistics, but it’s much more. The authors have pieced together a fascinating book covering six broad areas: Education, Employment, Industrial Relations, Political Economy, Health and Welfare, and Retirement. They draw on the results of three major surveys, giving a total pool of over 50,000 samples. Within these six broad areas, a number of specific questions are posed, the surveys' evidence presented and conclusions drawn. This is done in the context of the three themes: social differences, changes over time and international comparisons. Some of the examinations relate to public attitudes and opinion, others are based on empirical data. … In this review I am unable to list all the questions addressed, but a few examples will demonstrate the tone of the work. Is education a waste of time? Do students in private schools do better than students in government schools? How much is job security worth to employees? Is joint bargaining between unions, employers and government the best way to set wages and economic policy? Why is there so little social conflict? What do Australians think of genetically engineered food? How much does it cost to raise children? Why do people retire at such an early age? What do people think about superannuation? That’s merely a sample. Their 27 topics covered. … [The book] is a very representative sample of social issues. Furthermore [it] has an open style and good use of charts, making it accessible. … What were the results and outcomes of these analyses? … [One topic] might be illustrative. Chapter 10 deals with job complexity. Australia has comparatively complex jobs, it seems, when compared to five European nations. But what is fascinating is that job complexity rated behind most other factors in determining the salary of employees in this country. … In Australia we reward status and maleness measurably above all else. Perhaps that explains the whopping salaries paid to some corporate directors. But that’s where the fascination is really only beginning. [A]nother chapter (18) discussed changing attitudes to income inequality. … Australians felt that a chairperson [of a large national corporation] should earn 2.8 times more than the average worker. But Australian corporations actually determine salary more by position, status and maleness than by anything else (and the ratio of inequality is more like a factor of 10 to 1). Surely anyone involved in public policy can see the implications of that tension. - Industrial Relations Society of SA Newsletter, November 2002

Table of Contents

Topic I - Education
Snapshot: Government expenditure on education
Why is education rewarded - Necessary skills or arbitrary credentialism?
Snapshot: Secondary school completion since the 1960s
Snapshot: Education in Australia, Canada and the United States
Trends in educational attainment in Australia
Snapshot: Educational eifferences among the States
Snapshot: Gender differences in university education in six nations
Does mothers' employment affect children's education?
Cultural resources and educational success: The beaux arts versus scholarly culture
Snapshot: Private and public schools: Changes in the past 15 years
Private schools and educational success
Adult education and training through informal courses
Confidence in universities

Topic II - Employment
Participation in the labour force
Snapshot: Self-employment and occupation
Snapshot: Do we quarrel over housework?
Job complexity
How much is job security worth to employees?
Snapshot: Jobs: Government's responsibility
Snapshot: Australian jobs in comparative perspective
Snapshot: Jobs changed - politics or technology?
Snapshot: Downsizing trends: Workers' experiences
Organisational downsizing

Topic III - Industrial Relations
Snapshot: Australia 2001: A good industrial relations system?
Ideals about industrial relations in Australia, Finland, and Poland
Snapshot: Union membership
Changing attitudes towards trade unions in Australia: 1984-1999

Topic IV - Political Economy
Snapshot: Unemployment since 1900
Conflict between the unemployed and workers in 20 nations
Class and class conflict in Western nations
Equal opportunities or equal outcomes?
Changing attitudes toward income inequality in East and West
Attitudes to foreign trade in 16 nations
Changes in public attitudes toward labelling genetically modified foods, Australia 1994 to 2000

Topic V - Health and Welfare
Medical care and risky conventional lifestyles: Blame, sympathy, and financial responsibility
Snapshot: Childhood asthma: Changes over time
Smoking: Social patterns in Australia
Health benefits and potential budget savings due to pets: Australian and German survey results
Costs of children and living standards in Australian households

Topic VI - Retirement
Work commitment of older Australians
What form should government old age pensions take: Citizen attitudes
Householders' preferences for superannuation

Appendix: Data, measurement and methods
References/ Index

Of interest...