Health Care is now Australia’s largest industry!

Health Care is now Australia’s largest industry!

The 2011 Census 2nd release revealed an intriguing result. Looking at the broad 19 standard industry divisions, the largest employer of workers in Australia is now the Health Care and Social Assistance Industry. We have been told for a long time that this was a growth industry, but it has still taken many by surprise, particularly given that mining jobs get much of the media attention!


In 2011, Health Care and Social Assistance was Australia’s largest industry, employing 1,167,000 of Australia’s 10 million workers nationwide (11.6% of all workers). This was up by 211,000 in 5 years to be more than 100,000 higher than Retail Trade, the next largest, which was the largest industry in 2006. It had just overtaken Manufacturing in the previous Census. Manufacturing continued to slide, losing another 50,000 workers, to employ 9.0% of the workforce. This is interesting given the media focus on job losses in manufacturing as a recent phenomenon, but in fact this trend has existed for some time and is no doubt related to larger structural shifts in the economy.

The massive increase in employment in Health Care is quite a profound change and represents the continuing shift from primary and secondary industries to the service industry sector, and also the ageing of the population.


The mining industry in contrast, still only employs 176,000 people, or 1.8% of all industries. Even in Western Australia it only employs 6.2% of all workers. Of course in dollar terms it’s much more important to the economy, and modelling in shows that Mining is responsible for about 32% of WA’s Gross State Product. And mining employment did increase – nationally up by almost 70,000 people (65%), making Health Care’s 22% increase look more modest.


Other large increases were in Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (+128,000), Construction (+119,000), and Education Training (+106,000). Only Manufacturing and Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing showed declines. The increases in these industries are also indicative of the general shift to a service/knowledge economy.

It goes without saying that Health Care is a large industry and crosses a wide variety of sectors. Therefore it can be useful to examine changes within the industry by looking at the more detailed sectors. The chart below shows the sectors within Health Care and Social Assistance and how they have changed over 5 years.


Source: ABS, Census of Population and Housing (2011), unpublished data

Hospitals are the largest industry sector and had the largest increase of 57,100 but in percentage terms this was only 18%. The most impressive rises occurred in industries focussed at the opposite ends of the age spectrum – Residential Care Services, up by 42,000 or 30% (this includes predominantly aged care but also hostels for the homeless and disabled, etc), and Child Care Services, up by 25,000 or 34%. These two industry sectors neatly encapsulate the trends in the age structure of the population and how they impact on demand for services and employment. Increasing life expectancy and the ageing of the population is driving the demand for residential care, while the increased birth rate and financial pressures on parents drives demand for child care.

Also showing a very large increase is the Allied Health Services sector, which includes Dental, Physiotherapy and alternative therapies – an extra 32,500 people worked in these areas compared to 5 years before.

For more information on nationwide trends, and to have a look at State and City level data in the format, check out our Australia profile.

And of course our LGA subscribers have all this information in, for each suburb or locality. More detailed workforce information is coming soon, in the update of expected in 2013.

Access more information about the Australian Census 2011.

Access the new sites and other population statistics for Australia, States, Capital Cities, Local Government Areas and suburbs at .id’s demographic resource centre.



Glenn Capuano - Census Expert

Glenn is our resident Census expert. After ten years working at the ABS, Glenn's deep knowledge of the Census has been a crucial input in the development of our community profiles. These tools help everyday people uncover the rich and important stories about our communities that are often hidden deep in the Census data. Glenn is also our most prolific blogger - if you're reading this, you've just finished reading one of his blogs. Take a quick look at the front page of our blog and you'll no doubt find more of Glenn's latest work. As a client manager, Glenn travels the country giving sought-after briefings to councils and communities (these are also great opportunities for Glenn to tend to his rankings in Geolocation games such as Munzee and Geocaching).

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