In this exploratory study, changes in the structure of the Australian labour market during the 1970s are examined, with the aim to ascertain the effects these changes might have on the wellbeing of the workforce. Six issues have been selected for initial analysis: unemployment of youth; shift from full-time to part-time work; employment of women; early withdrawal from the workforce; low incomes in relation to the cost of living and taxation system; and the position of labour in a capital-intensive economy. From the perusal of official statistics and research papers, a conclusion is drawn that some of the concepts and methods used in labour market studies need re-appraisal; and new approaches to research may be necessary, so that the effects of a capital-intensive economy on the labour market can be identified and the implications for social policy can receive appropriate consideration. Although necessarily tentative in its conclusions, the analysis suggests a deteriorating capacity of the low-income earners to achieve a social wage; i.e., a wage sufficient to meet the cost of goods and services which are essential for an acceptable minimum level of social functioning in contemporary society. This indicates a potential exclusion of some occupational groups from the mainstream of social life, posing a danger of a polarized society. Thus the inference is made that increases in public expenditure on income maintenance provisions may be a necessary cost society will have to incur in order to sustain a ‘free’ capital-intensive economy.