Parenting, work and the gender pay gap

Wage inequality Parenting Australia
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The gender pay gap is the difference between women’s and men’s average weekly full-time equivalent earnings, expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings. For example, if women’s average wage is 80% of men’s, then there is a gender pay gap of 20%. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (the Agency) calculates the national gender pay gap using Australian Bureau of Statistics' Average Weekly Full-Time Earnings data.

The national gender pay gap is currently 17.1% and has hovered between 15% and 18% for the past two decades. The national gender pay gap represents the average difference in wages across the whole population of women and men in the workforce. Gender pay gaps can also be calculated for industries, occupations and individual organisations, and these are usually different from the national figure. Pay gaps in favour of men are found in every single industry. Most often the gender pay gap is discussed in the context of the aggregated, national estimate, and this is the ‘default’ figure referred to as the gender pay gap in this paper.

Despite decades of legislation designed to prevent it, discrimination on the basis of sex in Australian workplaces persists. Sex discrimination has long-term negative effects for both women and men, although the consequences are more readily observed in the lives of women.

Women’s disjointed career trajectories are mirrored in the way the gender pay gap changes over the life course. The gender pay gap exists from first entry to the workforce and increases substantially during the years of childbirth and childrearing, a time when many women have reduced their engagement with paid employment to take on family care work. The gap then stabilises and narrows slightly from mid-life, when many women increase their paid work and sometimes develop new careers after their children have grown up. The pay gap narrows further in the years leading up to retirement with a substantial drop during retirement when men’s income is usually reduced.

This paper explores the relationships between parenting, work and the gender pay gap, and provides insights into the ways that organisations can help address the gender pay gap by supporting parents in the workforce to more easily manage their paid work and family commitments.

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