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Gender inequality is an economic issue too

Stephen Koukoulas
·4-min read
Gender parity is an economic issue.
Gender parity is an economic issue.

I rescheduled my appointments on Monday so that I could go to the March 4 Justice rally on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra.

It was a fabulous demonstration of people power – women’s power to be more accurate as thousands of women and many men gathered together to listen to an array of fabulous speakers highlighting a range of injustices, inequalities and areas of oppression in Australian society that are driven by a person’s gender.

For the last three years, I have been privileged to be the Economist in Residence at the Economic Security 4 Women, which is an alliance of women’s organisations united in the belief that economic wellbeing and financial security are essential for women and will enable women of all aged to have an equal place in society.

That work has generally focused, as its name suggests, on gender issues that impact finance and economic wellbeing and how on just about all measures, men have significantly better economic and financial circumstances than women.

The list of issues is long but for now, I will focus on some of the most important ones.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in terms of average full-time equivalent weekly pay, men earn $1,804.20 which is 15.5 per cent more than women who earn $1,562.00. This pay gap is clearly significant and that gap has been broadly constant for at least two decades, even though it has narrowed a smidge in the last two years.

But this does not tell the full story.

Women, on average, undertake fewer paid hours of work per week. This means that the actual dollars and cents earnt and in the bank account is even less for women relative to men. As a result, average weekly total earnings for men is $1,526.60, which is a substantial 45.3 per cent above the $1,050.80 a week for women.

This level of pay differential feeds into the gap in superannuation balances between men and women. After all, the 9.5 per cent compulsory superannuation payment is paid on income earnt. In other words, the dollar value of superannuation contributions and therefore savings is lower for those who earn less.

The average superannuation balance for men in retirement in $270,000, a staggering 72 per cent more than the $157,000 balance for women.

Not only does the pay gap account for this, but absences from the paid workforce for unpaid child rearing and child care, which is undertaken predominantly by women, feeds into lower superannuation savings for women. Women also engage in broader unpaid care and work which means they make no contributions to superannuation from those activities.

The shortfall in affordable and accessible childcare means that female workforce participation (that is, paid work) is well below that of males. In recent months, the female workforce participation rate has been a little over 61 per cent, while for men, it is a little over 71 per cent.

This means that 10 per cent fewer women are in paid work than men which undermines their financial wellbeing and economic security.

There is, thankfully, some favourable news for women. This is centred on educational attainment. There are huge volumes of academic research that shows education, skills and training are positively correlated to income earning.

In 2020, 92.5 per cent of women and 87.5 per cent of men had attained Year 12 or a formal qualification of Certificate II or above. This has translated to 37.1 per cent of women and 29.4 per cent of men attaining a bachelor degree (or above) in terms of tertiary qualifications.

Despite this, only 17.1 per cent of CEO positions in the private sector were women, although this was up from 15.7 per cent in 2013-14.

In time, one would expect this education equality to feed into a narrowing of the pay gap.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of issues associated with gender imbalances in Australia. But it does show there is a long way to go before there is gender equality is truly achieved.

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