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SYDNEY, Feb 8 AAP

February 08 2013, 11:41AM

Fewer Australian men are working or looking for work than were almost a decade ago.

But the number of Australian women and older people participating in the labour force has steadily increased, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) says.

In its quarterly Statement on Monetary Policy, released on Friday, the RBA said the overall participation rate over the past two years had fallen by a greater-than-expected 0.75 per cent.

That bucked the long-term trend and showed that the participation rate of women and people aged over 55 had jumped significantly since 1980.

Around one-third of the recent fall in the number of people working or looking for work, the RBA said, could be attributed to men aged between 25 and 54.

"(Their) participation rate has declined by one percentage point since the end of 2010, to be at its lowest level since 2004," the RBA said.

"In addition, a 1.25 percentage point fall in the participation rate of younger workers aged 15-24 has accounted for around 30 per cent of the decline in aggregate participation during this period," the central bank said in its statement.

Over the same period, the rise in the number of women and people over 55 who were working or looking for work had reached a temporary plateau.

The RBA said that, on top of a softer labour market, some workers had been discouraged from searching for a job because their skills were not well matched to jobs in expanding industries.

Public sector workers who received significant redundancy packages might also have less of an incentive to look for a job immediately, it added.

Among the biggest factors affecting the male participation rate had been the recent sharp decline in self-employed workers in the construction sector, who may not be recorded as actively seeking work.

A substantial decline in industries that typically employ young people, such as food and retail, was also a contributing factor, the statement said.

The RBA also noted that a pick-up in the participation rate of older workers during the global financial crisis was slowing.

"Since the beginning of 2011, the trend increase in the participation of older workers has slowed, possibly reflecting the retirement of some of those individuals who chose to defer retirement or re-enter the labour force in 2008-2009."

By Roje Adaimy