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Breaking the norm: Unleashing Australia’s economic potential

$128 billion – That’s the economic benefit to Australia each year without prescriptive gender norms according to a new report released by Deloitte Access Economics.But what are gender norms?

Gender norms are the beliefs and expectations people hold around how people should behave based on their gender. Whether conscious or unconscious, these beliefs impact our choices and how we perceive others. Over time, they shape our individual preferences, lead to bias and discrimination, and impact the way society and institutions are organised. 

When it comes to gender, Australians are more gender traditional than many of us like to think. A recent survey found Australian men are more traditional in their gender attitudes than the global average, with 30% of Australian men agreeing gender inequality doesn’t really exist. This was the highest of all countries in the survey except Saudi Arabia. 

Gender attitudes in Australia are not necessarily getting more equitable over time. In fact, attitudes of Gen Z men in Australia on topics related to gender equality are more closely aligned with the Baby Boomer generation than Millennials or Gen X’s (Chart 1).

Chart 1: Proportion of male respondents who agree or strongly agree with the following gendered statements (by generation)

Source: Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey, Wave 19 

Note: Lighter shades reflect the most traditional generation.

Over time, these norms create barriers to an individual’s choices and opportunities, which could lead to vastly different life outcomes; from pay, to participation in the labour force, the type of jobs people work, representation in leadership, and unpaid domestic work. 

The extent and persistence of traditional gender norm in Australia is a key explanation for why Australia is falling behind on measures of gender equity. In fact, Australia moved from 15th to 43rd over the 16 years to 2022 on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index.

The gaps created by gender norms aren’t just bad for women, they’re bad for the economy. 

The gaps between men’s and women’s workforce participation and rates of part-time work created by traditional gender roles around domestic and care work results in the size of the workforce and number of hours worked being smaller than it would otherwise be. 

Gender bias and stereotypes also cause men and women to be unevenly distributed across industries and jobs, despite no significant differences in their innate talent. This is a potential indication that workers, on average, are not matched to jobs that best align with their individual talent, skills or capability. Closing these gaps would reduce the misallocation of talent across the workforce, making the average worker more productive. 

Our report finds that a plausible path to achieving these outcomes would grow Australia’s economy by $515 billion over the next fifty years, translating to $128 billion in additional GDP each year on average.

Importantly, a world with less restrictive gender norms doesn’t remove choices such as education pathways, careers, or who is the homemaker or breadwinner. It is a world where those choices are not constrained due to gendered concerns around perceived ability, financial security or judgement. 

You can read this report produced by Deloitte Access Economics in partnership with Australians Investing in Women here.

This blog was co-authored by Preston Tsamassiros (Economist, Deloitte Access Economics).