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Women’s economic progress starts decade on a high

— 1 minute read

Women’s economic progress has hit a high note, with the Financy Women’s Index recording its best performance of 2019 in the December quarter.

The index rose 0.9 per cent to a high of 119.9 points in the three months leading up to December, up from 118.8 points in the September quarter. 

However the pace of progress declined by more than half of what was achieved in prior years. 

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The Financy Women’s Index improved by 1.7 per cent (or two points) in the 12 months to 31 December, making 2019 the fifth slowest year for progress in the decade. In contrast, 2018 had seen the best improvement in the decade.

The top three years of the past decade for women’s financial progress were in 2018 (4.7 points), followed by 2016 (4 points) and 2015 (3.2 points).   

Financy Women’s Index founder Bianca Hartge-Hazelman said she was surprised by the result given the disappointing start to 2019.

“By almost all measures it was looking like 2019 would go down as being the worst year in a decade for women’s financial progress,” Ms Hartge-Hazelman said.

“But momentum changed during the December quarter after fresh records were broken with the number of women on ASX 200 boards, female tertiary education enrolments, full-time and part-time employment numbers, as well as the participation and underemployment rates.”

The financial progress of women as measured by the Financy Women’s Index, is calculated by looking at the performance of women relative to men across eight areas; tertiary education, employment, workforce participation, underemployment, wages, unpaid work, ASX 200 board numbers, and superannuation. 

In paid employment, the report noted average wage disparity between full-time working women and men narrowed to 14.02 per cent in 2019 from 14.53 per cent in 2018.

The gender gap in superannuation stood at 28 per cent, an increase from 25 per cent in the June quarter, but a considerable improvement from 37 per cent in the first three months of the year. 

Kate McCallum, national chair of Association of Financial Advisers Inspire community said the divide in super balances needs to be better addressed.

“Women still have a serious retirement shortfall, with a median balance for those nearing retirement of $122,848,” she said.

“This is less than a quarter [of] the ideal amount for a comfortable retirement.  

“It’s even worse for divorced women, who have a median super balance of one-quarter than that of a single person household and one-sixth of couple households.”

A major victory, Financy noted, was won for women on the boards of listed companies during the December quarter, with female directors now occupying 30.7 per cent of ASX 200 board positions. In the first quarter, they had taken up 29.7 per cent of board roles.

Reflecting on board representation, Onevue chief executive Connie Mckeage said going forward, there should be more ambitious goals for the decade to come.

“The need to push for a more diverse, fair working environment for all has never been more important,” Ms Mckeage said.

Among the standout indicators of progress for women in 2019 was data showing the greatest level of engagement among Australian women in the full-time workforce, Financy reported.

Over the past 12 months the female participation rate increased to 61.2 per cent from 60.52 per cent in December 2018.  

The number of women in full-time employment rose by 4 per cent to a seasonally adjusted 3.34 million in the December quarter from 3.22 million at the end of 2018. 

The female underemployment rate declined year-on-year to 10.4 per cent but it is still higher than where it was a decade ago. 

Women also continued to outnumber men in tertiary education studies however the gender balance in fields linked to higher pay outcomes remains disproportionate in favour of men. 

Despite record tertiary enrolment growth for females in 2019, in areas such as engineering and related technologies, architecture and building and information technology (IT), women were found to be under-represented and, in some cases, by as much as two to seven. 

The gender gap in unpaid work for couples, regardless of whether they have children, fell to a new low of 60 per cent in the latest 2018 data. 

The unpaid work data from the yet to be published 2018 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey found that while the gender gap in unpaid work for couples narrowed, the imbalance remains significant.

 

Women’s economic progress starts decade on a high
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Sarah Simpkins

Sarah Simpkins

Sarah Simpkins is a journalist at Momentum Media, reporting primarily on banking, financial services and wealth. 

Prior to joining the team in 2018, Sarah worked in trade media and produced stories for a current affairs program on community radio. 

You can contact her on [email protected].

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