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International Women’s Day

Many gains have been made in women’s economic progress, but there is still much more work to do to achieve gender equality.

Over recent decades, Australia has made significant strides in supporting the economic progress of women. Despite this progress, significant gender gaps persist, underpinned by prescriptive gender norms (that is, beliefs about how people should act based on their gender).

Closing these gaps will not only contribute to gender equality, but research shows that it would bolster economic growth. Deloitte’s Breaking the Norm report found that having more flexible ideas around gender could add an extra $128 billion annually to Australia’s economy. 

There are two key areas where Australian women have made significant economic progress, workforce participation and educational attainment. 

Workforce participation

The proportion of women working in Australia has grown steadily over many decades. However, there remains a gap between the proportion of women and men of working age who are in employment (60% of women compared to 69% of men in 2023), as seen in Chart 1 below. Caregiving responsibilities pose a significant barrier to increasing women’s workforce participation, with women taking up 86% of parental leave. 

Chart 1: Employment-to-population ratio in Australia

Source: ABS, Labour Force, Australia, January 2024

Educational attainment

Increasing educational attainment is one of the key drivers of women’s growing workforce participation. In the 1970s women made up only one-third of university students in Australia. Now, women make up more than half of Australian university students and are some of the most highly educated in the OECD. Half of women aged 25 to 34 years now hold a bachelor’s degree, compared to just over one-third of men of the same age. 

The higher educational attainment of women has led to more women than men occupying professional occupations since the early 2000s, as seen in Chart 2. 

Chart 2: Proportion of employed professionals, males and females

Source: ABS, Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, January 2024

Despite these gains, women’s economic progress in Australia is stagnating.

Women continue to experience disadvantages in the workforce. While overall workforce participation is high, a significant proportion of women work part-time (43% compared to 20% of men). This impacts women’s career progression and earnings, with data finding there is what Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Chief Executive Officer, Mary Wooldridge, calls a “promotion cliff” for part-time workers. It also means that Australia is underutilising its highly educated female workforce.

The ongoing gender pay gap also reflects the stagnation of women’s economic progress. The gender pay gap compares the average pay of men and women across organisations, industries, and the broader workforce. It does not refer to equal pay for equal roles, as this has been a legal requirement in Australia since 1969. Currently, the average gender pay gap stands at 21.7% in Australia, with half of all employers having a gender pay gap of over 9%. 

As WGEA highlights, the gender pay gap reflects segregation in how our society values the workforce contributions of men and women, women undertaking the lion’s share of caring responsibilities and discrimination and bias. 

Gender norms still need a shakeup.

In 2024, more Australian women work and have attained a university education compared to previous generations. Despite this important progress, more work is needed to challenge gender norms that place caring responsibilities largely on women and undervalue the contributions women make to our workforce and society. 

This newsletter was distributed on 8th March 2024. For any questions/comments on this week's newsletter, please contact our authors:

This blog was co-authored by Sara Agostino, Senior Analyst & Evie Fox Koob, Manager at Deloitte Access Economics

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