The million-dollar gap

Marking this year’s International Women’s Day, the Australian Centre for Future Work has released research revealing women earn $1 million less than men in their working life based on median income data.

Income inequality has long-term impacts on the socioeconomic standing of women in Australia. The fastest-growing group experiencing homelessness is women aged 65-75.

Curtin Law School director of graduate research Helen Hodgson, who has been involved in extensive research into the economic outcomes of women, says the million-dollar figure does not surprise her.

“Women are paid less,” she says. “Workplace systems do not properly address this disadvantage. That is a policy question that needs to be looked at.”

Women react to the new findings about pay inequality. Video: Anneke de Boer and Greg McFerran.

Women also earn $136,000 less superannuation over their working lives than men according to the Status of Women Report Card 2023.

“The whole problem stems back to the gender pay gap,” says Ms Hodgson. “Our whole superannuation system is based on pay so that means the pay gap flows through into a gap in retirement as well.”

Ms Hodgson explains that while women experience a pay discrepancy throughout their careers, it is when they embark on starting a family that the gap becomes significant.

“Superannuation is not paid on paid parental leave. It may be paid by your employer if you have paid parental leave through them, but the employer is not obliged to pay,” she says.

“When women might decide to go back to working full time they have got all this time to make up. They have lost momentum where their male counterparts have just kept steady. This gap is very rarely made up.”

Curtin Law School director of graduate research Helen Hodgson

Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre director Alan Duncan says women accumulate less superannuation over their lives which creates real vulnerabilities into retirement age.

“A gender pay gap within the working life will create a wealth gap over the course of one’s lifetime and into retirement,” says Mr Duncan.

“One has to do everything one can, even on economic opportunity between man and woman, to address and narrow the gender pay gap as much as possible.”

While the gender pay gap is narrowing it will not close until 2053, the Centre for Future Work reports.

The centre has made recommendations to address the gender pay gap. These include greater access to more affordable early-childhood care, better family-friendly work practices and policy to lift wages in female-dominated industries.

30 per cent of Australian men believe that gender inequality does not exist, according to the Status of Women Report Card for 2023. Photo: Anneke de Boer.

Mr Duncan says there are larger societal issues at play.

“The responsibility extends to us all. We need to ensure that the ambition of young girls and women aspiring towards careers is not suppressed purely by virtue of some attitude about the roles of women and men in society.”