Gender has a price tag: It’s $25,792.  

$25,792.  

How much MORE money men earned, on average, compared with women in 2020-2021 in Australia [1]. Some question its existence, but year after year, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) reports the cold hard facts proving the gender pay gap is alive and well.  

One of the most common rebuttals to the gender pay gap debate is that it does not measure like for like roles, and this is true (WGEA themselves even state this). But the gender pay gap is not about equal pay – it’s about the roles of women, men, and money and therefore power in our society. 

It shows the ongoing systemic bias against women in the workforce, that starts at the beginning of their careers (where male graduates earn more than female graduates [2]) and shadows them throughout their lives, ending in lower superannuation balances, a heavier reliance on the aged pension, and an increased risk of poverty and homelessness in old age.  

It illustrates the lack of value placed on unpaid care work – an industry that if paid, is estimated to be worth $650.1 billion (the equivalent to 50.6% of Australia’s GDP [3]) – that is traditionally done by women.  

The WGEA gender pay gap data shows that men are twice as likely to be in the top 25% of earners compared with women, yet women are 50% more likely to be in the lowest-earning bracket than men [4]. And sure – men are more likely to be employed in higher-paid industries, while women are more likely to be in lower-paid industries. But should women be financially punished for this? 

Why is it that, as a society, jobs that involve caring for others – traditionally women’s work – is paid less and valued less than roles that are traditionally male-dominated? What makes an engineer more valuable than a nurse? A construction worker more valuable than a teacher? Roles that – as we’ve learned over the last two years of the pandemic – are absolutely essential to the functioning of our society. 

Even in industries traditionally dominated by women, men still get paid more. There is a 14.4% pay gap in Healthcare and Social Assistance and a 10.5% gap in the Education and Training sector. Feminised industries are also less likely to undertake gender pay gap audits (less than 30%) and take subsequent action (less than 40%) [5].  

It seems even in “women’s work”, we’re still not coming out on top.  

So how do we fix this? 

Get rid of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ parental leave, and offer same leave to all parents 

Where primary parental leave is offered to both parents, only 12% of dads took it compared with 88% of mums [6]. Perhaps more new dads are worried about the impact on their careers if they take more time off? What a novel concept.  

The financial benefits to the mother (and therefore the family) when fathers took more parental leave cannot be denied. A Swedish study showed that fathers’ use of parental leave had a direct positive impact on their partners’ earnings. With each month the father stayed on parental leave, his partner received a 6.7% growth in earnings [7].  

Make childcare affordable 

Affordable childcare is NOT a women’s issue – it’s a family issue. It’s an everyone issue. Research by the Grattan Institute revealed that if the Federal Government spent an extra $5 billion a year on childcare subsidies, there would be an $11 billion-a-year increase in GDP from the boost to workforce participation. It would also coincide with $150,000 in higher lifetime earnings for the typical Australian mother [8].

Balance that unpaid labour  

Men of Australia – it’s time to do more at home. Data from WGEA revealed that 64% of the average Australian woman’s week is spent providing unpaid care work, compared with 36% of a man’s [9]. In opposite-sex couples, partners do roughly the same amount of paid and unpaid work per week right up until their first child is born, where women’s unpaid work jumps dramatically, along with their total time on unpaid and paid work, whereas men’s total work increases too but not near as much.  

References
  1. Workplace Gender Equality Agency (2022) Australia’s gender equality scorecard. Sydney, NSW.
  2. Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (2021) Graduate Outcomes Survey. Melbourne, Victoria.
  3. Workplace Gender Equality Agency (2016) Unpaid care work and the labour market. Sydney, NSW.
  4. Workplace Gender Equality Agency (2022) Australia’s gender equality scorecard. Sydney, NSW.
  5. Workplace Gender Equality Agency (2022) Australia’s gender equality scorecard. Sydney, NSW.
  6. Workplace Gender Equality Agency (2022) Australian employers paying up for mums and dads on parental leave. Sydney, NSW.
  7. Johansson, E.A. (2010). The effect of own and spousal parental leave on earnings. Institute for Labour Market Policy Evaluation, Swedish Ministry of Employment. Uppsala, Sweden.
  8. Grattan Institute (2020) Cheaper childcare: A practical plan to boost female workforce participation. Melbourne, Victoria.
  9. Workplace Gender Equality Agency (2016) Unpaid care work and the labour market. Sydney, NSW.
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