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Economic equality indicators show signs of post-COVID recovery

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By Jessica Penny
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3 minute read

An improvement in female underemployment and a shift among women studying educational fields has been linked to higher expected career earnings, recent data has shown.

The Financy Women’s Index (FWI) rose 1.5 points in the September quarter to 78.1 points out of 100, the index’s largest quarterly gain in two years.

This 2 per cent increase, according to the fintech, signifies a correction in women’s financial progress following a decline attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Underpinning these results were the underemployment sub-index rising to 76 points in the September quarter from 66.3 points in June. As such, the timeframe for reaching equality in underemployment improved by 1.2 years quarter-on-quarter.

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Meanwhile, the number of monthly hours worked by women hardly moved (-0.1 per cent) compared to a 1.3 per cent loss for men, helping narrow the timeline to equality in employment from 27.4 years to 26.7 years.

Financy founder Bianca Hartge-Hazelman noted, however, that a 1.9-point increase to the FWI this year-to-date does not mean women or men are out of the woods.

“During the peak of the pandemic, the underlying data captured in the index was volatile and if we compare where we are today to September 2020, the index is less than 1 point (0.84) higher – a poor result,” Ms Hartge-Hazelman said.

“That said, if we look at economic equality prior to the pandemic in December 2019, the index is nearly 5 points higher today than it was then. This suggests a correction in the index to a more reliable pattern of progress, but the economic environment remains concerning for both female and male employment.”

The gender pay gap remains the median timeframe to equality, at an unchanged 24.2 years, which has been reasonably steady for the past 12 months.

Gender gap in education slightly narrows

The FWI’s uptick in September was also bolstered by the education sub-index rising to 92.9 points this quarter, up 0.4 points year-on-year.

However, the time frame for equality in education remained unchanged at 139 years, continuing to be the worst-performing area.

Information technology remained the highest-paying educational area for women and has seen female enrolment growth continue to outpace male. Despite this, female enrolments stand at 21,006, about a third less than the 73,716 for male.

According to Ms Hartge-Hazelman, this new data comes at a time of increased focus on gender equity policy and research.

“Domestically, we’ve seen the Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce final report handed to the Australian government and, offshore, the awarding of the Nobel Prize in economics to Professor Claudia Goldin for her research that has raised the profile of the gender pay gap and what is behind it – so it’s been a busy period of gender equity headlines and impact,” Ms Hartge-Hazelman noted.

“What’s needed now is for the tide to turn from all this awareness raising on economic inequality to an environment of collective action by government, companies, and individuals to accelerate progress to equality,” she says.

AMP chief economist Shane Oliver added: “The Financy Women’s Index shows we clearly still have a long way to go to achieve gender financial equality.

“This is particularly so in areas like the expected earnings flowing from the education choices women make and in unpaid work.

“But the good news is that the index has improved significantly this year with strong progress in women’s board representation,” Dr Oliver said.

Economic equality indicators show signs of post-COVID recovery

An improvement in female underemployment and a shift among women studying educational fields has been linked to higher expected career earnings, recent data has shown.

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