Human Resources

How we view and value work impacts gendered financial stereotypes

Health Industry Hub | April 19, 2023 |

Human Resources: Despite decades of economic progress, gender inequality remains a critical social problem for Australian society and within Australian households. A University of Queensland study has shown having a baby negatively affects a mother’s employment earnings for up to 10 years.

Researchers from UQ’s Life Course Centre used data from the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey to investigate the impact of parenthood on earnings across a period spanning 10 years prior to and 10 years after the birth of a child.

Lead author, Ruth Steinbring, said that while previous research found an immediate ‘motherhood penalty’ on women’s earnings, this study was one of the first to examine the long-term trajectory of household earnings through the transition into parenthood.

“We know that parenthood is a key contributor to loss of earnings for women, but we did not know whether or at what point women started to regain their lost earnings,” Ms Steinbring said.

“While there is an expectation over the long term that couples will gradually return to pre-parenthood earnings arrangements, our study results do not support this. Parenthood affects men and women differently and the gender gap in earnings is still evident up to 10 years after the first birth.”

The study shows the share of households with male breadwinners rises sharply post-parenthood and has still not returned to pre-parenthood levels 10 years on. It also shows a large decrease in the number of equal-earner households. However there is less fluctuation in the number of female-breadwinner households from pre- to post-parenthood.

Minister for Women, Senator Katy Gallagher, tabled the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s (WGEA) biennial Progress Report in Parliament recently, saying “The reality is, while we are making some gains on gender equality, we are not there yet and, in some aspects of women’s lives, progress has stalled. Shining a light on these statistics may be confronting but it is crucial if we are to have an honest conversation about gender equality in this country.”

“Our study confirms that parenthood entrenches the male-breadwinner model, but it also shows that there are some couples who make it work with a female breadwinner and we can learn from those households,” Ms Steinbring said.

“Current policy mainly focusses on supporting women after the birth of a child, but our research suggests that improving women’s earnings prior to giving birth can also help improve equality.”

A recent announcement in the Federal budget to increase paid parental leave from 18 to 26 weeks seems to be a step in the right direction. However, until payments are at income-replacement levels and men are encouraged to take leave through “use it or lose it” policies, these are unlikely to exert any changes to traditional household earnings arrangements.

Co-author and Life Course Centre Director Professor Janeen Baxter said the study provides valuable new insights into the role of parenthood in gender inequality over a lifetime.

Professor Baxter said the findings suggest structural, economic and cultural pressures to conform to a male-breadwinner model, and unequal sharing of household and childcaring responsibilities, continued to be a strong influence on post-parenthood earnings.

“This study highlights the need for policymakers to also consider the years prior to parenthood as a key period where targeted supports can foster greater long-term gender equality. Rather than simply aiming to increase women’s participation in the labour market, our findings also point to the importance of a more holistic goal that encompasses both men and women and their children across the life course. This includes changes in how we view and value work, as well as policies that encourage men to take a larger share of parenting and childcare responsibilities in the long-term,” the authors noted.

The consultation survey on the National Strategy to Achieve Gender Equality closes on 19 April 2023.

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