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Revealed: The countries where wives earn more than their husbands

Bride and groom on wedding day, focus on bouquet.
The new research looks at pay gaps within heterosexual couples. (Image: Getty).

A 40-year global study has revealed the countries where wives - on average - earn more than their husbands.

The answer? Zero.

While gender inequality within households fell by 20 per cent between 1973 and 2016, the current levels of inequality mean there is no country where wives earn more than their husbands within heterosexual working couples.

For the study published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, professors Hema Swaminathan and Deepak Malghan of the Centre for Public Policy, Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, analysed data from 2.85 million heterosexual housholds aged 18-65.


The harvested data was then collated by the Luxembourg Income Study non-profit.

The researchers said that while it’s well understood women earn less than men across the global workforce, more research needed to be done to understand the earnings gap within couples.

Across Australia, the gender pay gap - which compares men’s and women’s average weekly full-time base salary earnings - is 14.2 per cent.

That equates to a $260 weekly difference.

Swaminathan and Malghan also wanted to see how the household earnings gap played out across different societies, highlighting how even Nordic countries - usually considered gender-equality leaders - failed to deliver pay equality within the home.

"The most recent wave of data suggests that when both members of the couple are employed, there is not a single country, not even in the richest or most developed parts, where wives earn as much as their husbands," Malghan said.

"Even in the Nordic countries, which have the lowest levels of gender inequality in the world, we found the women's share is less than 50 per cent everywhere."

The reasons behind the gap include the overall undervaluing of female-dominant industries like the care sector, as well as cultural beliefs that the home is the woman’s domain.

Similar work attracts different pay in Australia

Analysis of Australia’s frontline COVID-19 workforce noted that among nurses, who are 89 per cent female, only 10 per cent will earn more than $2,000 a week and most will earn between $1,000 and $2,000 a week.

That makes nurses the lowest paid group among healthcare professionals, the analysis performed by labour market economist Leonora Risse in April 2020 found.

Among ambulance officers and paramedics, who are 63 per cent male, 27 per cent will earn $2,000 or more a week.

Additionally, among cleaners and laundry workers - 59 per cent of which are female - most (85 per cent) earn between $500 and $1,500 in a week.

For rubbish collectors, who are 94 per cent male, pay skews higher.

Around 12 per cent of rubbish collectors will make $1,500 - $2,000 a week, compared to just 5 per cent of cleaners and laundry workers.

The same trend plays out when examining the workers tasked with protecting and helping Australia’s communities. Among social workers and counsellors (81 per cent female), more than three quarters earn between $1,000 and $2,000 a week.

Police officers, who are 73 per cent male, are more likely to earn more, with 72 per cent of this workforce earning $1,500 - $2,000+.

Source: ABS.
Source: ABS.

“It's no coincidence that the vast bulk of all forms of care – caring occupations in the paid workforce, unpaid domestic work undertaken at home, and volunteer service offered in communities – is done by women,” Risse said.

“The undervaluation of care is a major factor driving gender inequalities in economic and social outcomes.

“Based on the way our society has been engineered, altruism, generosity, compassion and community-mindedness do not neatly equate to wealth, power, authority and status – despite being the invisible glue holding society together.”

Unpaid work at home takes a bite

Additionally, women around the world are more likely to take a break from the paid workforce to take on child-rearing responsibilities.

Globally, women will take on 76.2 per cent of the unpaid care work at home, the International Labour Organisation has found.

And according to Oxfam analysis, if women around the world received a minimum wage for the unpaid care work they did at home, they would have collectively earned US$10.9 trillion (AU$14.8 trillion) in one year.

That’s more than the combined revenue of the 50 largest companies on the Fortune Global list.

While the researchers noted the 20 per cent improvement in the household earnings gap, Swaminathan said there’s still much more to be done.

“We have to ask: is women's work being acknowledged? Are there family-friendly and child-friendly policies?” Swaminathan said.

“We also need better-brought-up men who will share the burden of the unpaid chores.”

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