Economic sexual inequality is still rife in Australia, but there is a pattern of improvement which appears likely to continue, as it must if equality is to be achieved.
Female earnings as a ratio of men’s earnings have risen steadily since 1973-74. In the past education has been the key to higher incomes. Now a higher percentage of girls that boys are completing high school and there are more women than men in higher education.
The trends are revealed in Women in Australia which was published yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The 300-page book draws together a raft of statistics on the position of women compared to men in income, work, health, education, leisure, housing and families.
It lists a century of formal milestones of equality, but shows how the reality is one of inequality.
The milestones, however, “”record only those events which appear in written history and groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders”.
One previously statistically unrecorded contribution was the value of house and community work.
The book puts the value of it at $151 billion a year, of which 68 per cent is done by women. In other words, women are contributing some $25 billion work of work a year more than men, unpaid.
“”Overall, women did about four times the amount of housework as men, about three times the about of food preparation and cleaning up, and about eight times the laundry,” the book said.
(Perhaps men prefer to be well-fed than clean.)
In the past unpaid work was excluded from GNP. The Australian Bureau of Statistics said it intended to produce figures each time data to support them becomes available.
The book said, “”Gender equality in the labour market has become a major social issue, expanding beyond equal pay to equal access to secure career paths, to higher-paid occupations and training as well as access to affordable child care and more flexible work and superannuation arrangements.”
The female-male earnings ratio has shown a steady increase since 1973-74 from about 52 per cent to 62 per cent (72 per cent for full-time workers) in 1990-91.
However, the inequality remains, despite the Arbitration Commission ruling on equal pay for equal work in 1972. In 1989-90 women’s annual incomes were concentrated at the lower end. Half of all female income recipients got less than $10,000 compared to 22 per cent of men. Women’s mean income was $14,000 a year; men’s was $26,000.
Of course, much of the work has been unequal. Women had dominated lower-paying jobs. Women (9 per cent) were under-represented in managerial/administrative occupations against men (16 per cent), and within that category, women averaged 7- per cent of the male earnings. The story was similar for professional areas. Women were over-represented in sales and personal services (16 per cent to 7 per cent). 45 per cent of these women were sales assistants, the lowest paid in this category.
Women were over-represented in the clerical jobs, and once again were paid less than men in that category.
Women earned less than men in every occupation group except nursing. And they got less overtime and less in over-award payments than men.
On the positive side there has been a dramatic improvement in the number of women covered by superannuation: 36.5 per cent in 1988 to 65.5 per cent in 1991. The male rate is still higher at 75.3 per cent in 1991.
There has been a steady increase in child support from non-custodial fathers. 19.4 per cent got some support in 1981-82 rising to 28.3 per cent in 1989-90.
In Education, women are catching up and over-taking. The book said, “”Levels of education attainment among women have risen in recent years and should continue to do so in line with increases in the participation of younger women in post-compulsory school education.”
Girls are staying at school longer. More of them are going to university and TAFE.
In 1992 more females aged 20 to 24 had post-school qualifications than males. In older age groups men had the edge. Things are changing, and it seems women are determined to achieve equality and better in areas where there are fewer glass ceilings: education, where progress is made more purely on merit alone.
However, the nature of the courses shows women are still tending to “”traditional areas” such as health at rates high than men and are under-represented in courses like engineering.
Migrant women from English-speaking countries are more likely to have post-secondary qualifications (45.8 per cent) than the general population (60.9) and those from non-English-speaking countries (67.0). Migrant women from India (65.3) and Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong (53.3) were higher than average.