Positive news for Australian women after the economic progress measurement, the Financy Women’s Index, posted its best performance of 2019 in the December quarter.

Here's what stood out:

  • The 2019 December quarter delivered a strong finish to the decade, helped by a number of fresh records set in women’s financial progress
  • However, the pace of 2019 progress disappointed with a decline by over half of what was achieved in 2018
  • Year-on-year the Index rose 1.7% to finish at 119.9 points, compared to 117.8 points in December 2018
  • In the December quarter, the Index rose 0.9% from a revised 118.8 points in the September quarter
  • 2019 progress was helped by records being broken in full-time employment, the participation rate, tertiary education enrolments and the gender gaps in pay and super.

Founder of the Financy Women’s Index, Bianca Hartge-Hazelman, said she’s surprised by the result given the disappointing start to 2019.

“By almost all measures it was looking like 2019 would go down as being the worst year in a decade for women’s financial progress," said Ms Hartge-Hazelman.

“But momentum changed during the December quarter after fresh records were broken with the number of women on ASX 200 boards, female tertiary education enrolments, full-time and part-time employment numbers, as well as the participation and underemployment rates,” she said.

 

The financial progress of women as measured by the Financy Women’s Index is calculated by looking at the performance of women relative to men across eight areas: tertiary education, employment, workforce participation, underemployment, wages, unpaid work, ASX 200 board numbers, and superannuation.

The top three best years of the past decade for women’s financial progress were 2018 (4.7 points), followed by 2016 (4 points) and 2015 (3.2 points). 2019 ranked fifth fastest in terms of the pace of progress.

According to Ernst & Young chief economist, Joanna Masters, the latest Index shows that the world still shoulders bias pertaining to women in the workforce.

“There is work to be done and I’m disappointed to see the pace of progress slow on some key issues, notably the gender pay gap which narrowed at the slowest pace in a decade last year. Focus needs to remain razor sharp – by business, governments and individuals,” Joanna Masters, Ernst & Young chief economist.

Among the specific standout signs of progress for women in 2019 was data showing the greatest level of engagement among Australian women in the full-time workforce.

Over the past 12 months the female participation rate increased to 61.2% from 60.52% in December 2018.

The number of women in full-time employment rose by 4% to a seasonally adjusted 3.34 million in the December quarter from 3.22 million at the end of 2018, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics1.

The female underemployment rate declined year-on-year to 10.4% but it is still higher than where it was a decade ago.

A major victory was claimed for women on the boards of listed companies during the December quarter, with female directors now occupying 30.7% of ASX 200 board positions.

Women continue to outnumber men in tertiary education studies, however the gender balance in fields linked to higher pay outcomes remains disproportionately in favour of men.

Despite record tertiary enrolment growth for females in 2019, in areas such as engineering and related technologies, architecture and building and information technology (IT), women are underrepresented and, in some cases, by as much as two to seven.

The gender gap in unpaid work for couples, regardless of whether they have children, fell to a new low of 60 % in the latest 2018 data.

The unpaid work data from the 2018 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey found that while the gender gap in unpaid work for couples narrowed, the imbalance remains significant.

In paid employment, the average wage disparity between full-time working women and men narrowed to 14.02% in 2019 from 14.53% in 20182.

The three industries with the biggest reductions in their gender pay gaps in 2019 include rental, hiring and real estate services and mining, which is the highest paying sector for both genders.

The average Australian woman also has a lower superannuation balance compared to her male peers and, according to the Association of Financial Advisers (AFA) Inspire community, national chair, Kate McCallum, this needs to be better addressed.

“Women still have a serious retirement shortfall, with a median balance for those nearing retirement of $122,848. This is less than a quarter the ideal amount for a comfortable retirement."

“It’s even worse for divorced women, who have a median super balance of one-quarter than that of a single person household and one-sixth of couple households,”

To address this this shortfall, Kate said that women need:

  • more flexibility to do a 'last minute dash' to top up super tax-effectively in their pre-retirement years (after child rearing)
  • greater access to supported childcare and/or childcare payments
  • a property settlement process that is easy, quick and inexpensive
  • an elder care payment similar to child support benefits, because many women often complete child raising only to turn the corner into parent care.
"Women still have a serious retirement shortfall,"

Kate McCallum, Association of Financial Advisers (AFA) Inspire community, National Chair

 

Bianca Hartge-Hazelman writes on women’s money matters for financy.com.au and is the author of the quarterly report, The Financy Women’s Index. This article was first published on financy.com.au which is home to the Women’s Index of which AMP is a platinum sponsor. This article represents the views of the author only and does not necessarily reflect the views of AMP.


1 Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, Quarterly, Nov 2019, ABS
2 Melbourne Institute Applied Economic and Social Research, The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey, Selected Findings from Waves 1 – 16, 2018

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