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Economic equality on path to recovery after 10-year lows

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By Jessica Penny
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3 minute read

Progress to economic equality in Australia rebounded in the March quarter following the worst annual setback in a decade.

The Financy Women’s Index (FWX), a quarterly measurement of the economic progress of women in Australia, gained two points to 78.3 points in the March quarter – 3.66 points higher than where it stood in March 2023.

According to the research house, the result suggests a rebound in economic equality outcomes after 2023 became the worst-performing year in a decade for women’s financial progress.

In particular, the main drivers of the improvement in the index were employment and underemployment, with the FWX Employment sub-index showing an improved score to 75.2 points out of 100 during the quarter as women increased their number of monthly hours worked by 2.6 per cent compared to 1.4 per cent for men.

The capacity of women to engage in paid work also improved to 65 per cent from 63 per cent, compared to 86 per cent for men, up from 85 per cent.

Meanwhile, the underemployment sub-index moved up by 0.88 points to 71.8 points as female underemployment improved at a faster pace than male underemployment deteriorated.

“The rising cost-of-living pressures, coupled with improved flexible work opportunities, are two significant factors helping to drive the growth in female employment,” Financy founder Bianca Hartge-Hazelman said.

Looking at timeframes to gender equality, the best-performing area was in ASX 200 board leadership with a 5.6 year wait, compared to 17.7 years in superannuation, and 19.9 years in underemployment.

Moreover, the timeframes for closing the gender pay gap was 23.3 years, 25.6 years for employment, and 389.2 years in education.

Noting that a worsening of the gender gaps in unpaid work was largely to blame for the 2023 setback, Financy said it has observed evidence of more women engaging in paid work opportunities. The timeframe for achieving equality in unpaid work was 45.5 years for the quarter.

Commenting on the findings, independent economist Nick Hutley conceded that while every step forward on the index is welcome, a truly gender-inclusive society will need “both faster and broader progress”, including in areas of social inequality.

Gender-based violence emerges as ‘national concern’

Despite the progress that FWX has seen over the past quarter, this has been accompanied by a sudden increase in gender-based violence.

Hartge-Hazelman noted that the last decade has seen a positive correlation between economic equality progress and declining gender-based violence, though this correlation has started to show signs of decoupling in recent months.

“Whilst the long-term trend in both gender financial equality progress and gender-based violence is one of improvement over the last decade, the alarming surge in female deaths this year is of significant national concern,” she said.

“It is too early to know if this trend will continue, but if we continue to see this many tragedies (43 women killed this year already) then it will undermine economic progress and equality for women.”

AMP chief economist Shane Oliver added that the rebound in reported violence towards women serves as a reminder that “we can’t simply assume that rising financial equality will necessarily translate to falling gender-based violence”.

“In fact, there could be perverse effect where it may increase it, if some men feel they are being left behind.”

“At the very least, this shows the need to highlight that women’s financial equality is good for both women and men. Men need to be brought along the journey too,” Oliver concluded.