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The Gendered Labour Market

Discussion Paper – November 2020

Outlining the issues associated with the gender differences in the labour market has revealed a range of factors that underpin the persistent gaps in gender pay and superannuation. This paper acknowledges those factors but focuses the analysis and recommendations on specific economic policy changes that can close the gap on the imbalances in the labour market.

In looking at the gendered labour market, we start with a simple question: Why is a miner who helps to dig out iron ore or copper from the ground and transport it to a ship paid substantially more than an early education teacher who uses their skills and expertise to nurture Australian children as they start their journey through life?

Both jobs are vitally important and essential for Australia’s economic prosperity, both require special skills and training to achieve success, yet society values the role of an average miner significantly more than it does someone looking after and teaching our children.

Data shows that the miner has an 83.7 per cent chance of being a male, while the teacher has a 73.2 per cent chance of being a female.

A lot of the differentials in pay levels and gender participation in various sectors of the economy are due to issues going back many generations – men as the sole breadwinner needed to be paid a wage sufficient to look after a family, while it was only unmarried and single women who were teachers.

It has always been thus, as the saying goes.

Of course, this is an over-simplification of a complex problem. But as advocates of gender equality point out and policy makers look to address the gender pay and superannuation gaps, addressing such thinking which leads to unbalanced outcomes can form the background into what can and should be done to ensure that women and men are paid the same during their paid work-life.

When successfully implemented, this will enhance the economic security of all women living in Australia and see them retire with superannuation balances equal to men.

It would also be a vital element in increasing overall productivity in Australia which would act to boost economic growth.

Recommendations:

  • Childcare that is affordable and accessible to all parents via direct subsidies to childcare centres and making more places available in the cities and in regional centres. This will ensure there is a rise in female workforce participation and will, among other issues, provide greater opportunities for women to advance to managerial positions across all sectors of the economy. A lift in workforce participation has the added benefit of raising the potential economic growth rate of the Australian economy.
  • Ensure gender equality in education, skill development and training are maintained. This is to facilitate opportunities for both men and women to engage in all sectors and professions equally. There is a vast array of academic analysis that confirms a strong correlation between a country’s education and skills and its economic growth potential.
  • Through the awards system and Fair Work Commission, deliver larger wage increases in female dominated sectors. Previous work from eS4W found that a 0.5 per cent per annum additional wage increases above the average in those sectors will reduce the overall gender pay gap by 4 percentage points within a decade.