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Priority area 3: Economic equality and security

There have been substantial improvements in women's economic equality in recent decades with increases to women's workforce participation, growth in women's level of educational attainment, reductions in the gender pay gap and narrowing of the retirement income gap. However, this progress has been slow and uneven, and more work is needed to achieve economic equality.

Equality cannot be achieved while there is still a high gender pay gap and women experience higher levels of poverty.

These gender gaps are driven by patterns of work and care; women's over-representation in part-time, low-paid, and insecure jobs; and barriers to career advancement. Australia's industry and occupational segregation also contributes to gender pay gaps. Women tend to study or train in areas that attract debt or require unpaid placements to qualify, creating inequality from the start of their careers. Women-led businesses and startups also attract less investment, restricting their ability to drive entrepreneurial initiatives in Australia. While men continue to have greater economic security overall, boys' education outcomes require attention – girls are regularly outperforming boys in literacy, and more women than men enrol at university.

Gender discrimination and harassment contribute to the gender pay gap and inequality at work as well.Note 64 Gender discrimination can be compounded by other forms of discrimination such as racism, ableism, and homophobia. Relationship breakdown and violence can worsen women's economic insecurity.

Experiences of economic inequality have lifelong impacts, including an inability to escape and recover from violence, housing insecurity and homelessness, and lower superannuation balances and less security in retirement.

To achieve gender equality, there needs to be a sustained reduction in the gender gaps in pay and retirement incomes. The Government can use its levers to create safe, secure and flexible workplaces; support equitable access to education and skills building; and remove disincentives and inequities that perpetuate occupational and industrial gender segregation and sustained pay and wealth gaps.

See Data snapshot – economic equality and security for further analysis.

What have we heard?

'Women's labour force participation and workplace experience is typically worse than their male counterparts. It is characterised by disparity in paid working hours; vertical labour market stratification; horizontal labour market segmentation; the undervaluation of feminised work; insecurity and precarity; and discrimination and disrespect.'

— Women's Economic Equality Taskforce, final reportNote 65

What we'll do:
Australian Government actions

The Government is committed to improving women's economic equality across their lifetimes.

Action underway

To improve economic equality in women's daily lives, the Government has already made a number of investments and reforms. The Government has:

  • committed to tax relief that supports participation and lowers barriers to work where they matter most – especially for women on low and middle incomes – while delivering a tax cut for all women taxpayers
  • driven transparency and action by amending the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, enabling the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to publish the gender pay gap of employers with 100 or more employees
  • made gender equality an objective of the Fair Work Act 2009 through the Secure Jobs, Better Pay reforms so the Fair Work Commission can better consider gender equality in its decision-making, and established expert panels on pay equity and the care and community sectors within the Commission
  • supported private sector action to embed gender equality in pay, leadership and opportunities, including in emerging industries like clean energy, and the Equal by 30 campaign on women in the clean energy sector
  • prioritised action on gender segregation of the labour market by recruiting and retaining more women into trades and other occupations through apprenticeship supports, fee-free TAFE places and targets in the Australian Skills Guarantee
  • agreed, with states and territories, to include gender equality as a national priority in the National Skills Agreement, which provides funding to support state and territory skills sectors to deliver skills for critical and emerging industries, including care and support services
  • expanded eligibility to Parenting Payment Single, so that single parents, who are overwhelmingly mothers, can access increased support until their children are 14
  • improved the child support system, implementing legislation to improve the timely collection of child support owed to parents – who are overwhelmingly women – and help prevent future debt among low-income parents.

To achieve gender equality, there needs to be a sustained reduction in the gender gaps in pay and retirement incomes.

In addition, the Government will continue to:

  • take further action to address gender segregation of industries and occupations, including through responding to recommendations of the Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review and improving the diversity of the cyber security workforce through the Cyber Security Strategy
  • end the ParentsNext program and implement a replacement program that genuinely responds to the needs of parents of young children and supports them to prepare for or return to work, while prioritising their caring roles
  • implement recommendations of the Workplace Gender Equality Act Review to drive action across the private sector on gender equality and collect data to understand how employees experience multiple and intersecting forms of bias, discrimination and disadvantage at work
  • scope a First Nations Economic Partnership with the Coalition of the Peaks and other organisations, to boost labour force participation and economic outcomes – including for First Nations women
  • improve the economic outcomes and safety of migrant women through system reform outlined in the Migration Strategy
  • support women's access to housing through the development of the National Housing and Homelessness Plan, building on delivery of the Social Housing Accelerator and the establishment of the Housing Australia Future Fund, which also includes targeted support for women and children
  • consider longer term improvements to the child support scheme, looking at issues like noncompliance as a means of financial abuse, whether the child support formula reflects the current costs of raising children in Australia, and what can be done to support parents where private collect arrangements have broken down.

What structural change looks like:
targeted tax reform to assist with the cost of living and lower barriers to work

The 2022–23 Tax Expenditures and Insights Statement included – for the first time – distributional analysis of tax expenditures by gender, contributing to the evidence base on interactions between gender, earnings and the tax system. Gender pay and earnings gaps partially drive women's over representation in lower taxable income deciles, and this contributes to the distribution of relief that is delivered through the tax system.

Although specific action is needed to close gender pay and earnings gaps, tax policy can be designed in a way that is responsive to the gendered distribution of income. The Government is delivering tax reform that aims to incentivise women's workforce participation and will deliver more tax relief to women. From 1 July 2024, the Government will lower the 19% tax rate to 16% and the 32.5% tax rate to 30%, and lift the $120,000 threshold to $135,000 and the $180,000 threshold to $190,000.

Under the changes, all 6.5 million women who pay tax will receive a tax cut from 1 July 2024 – leaving them around $1,650 better off, on average. People in women-dominated occupations, such as teaching, nursing and aged care, are among the most likely to benefit, with over 95% of these taxpayers receiving more tax relief.

Apart from making up a larger share of taxpayers in low and middle income deciles, women tend to be more responsive to changes in their after tax incomes when making decisions about work and care. By directing more tax relief to people on low and middle incomes, the reforms increase the financial reward from taking on additional hours where these incentives matter most – and are estimated to result in an additional 630,000 hours worked per week by women. These changes complement the participation benefits of the Government's Cheaper Child Care reforms.

A highly gendered workforce also increases the risk of workforce shortages.

Future directions

To further accelerate progress, directions for future effort include:

  • examining the gender and care interaction within the superannuation system to narrow retirement income gender gaps
  • examining the social security system to better understand the impacts on gender equality and the intersections of safety, income support and care for children and family members. This could include drawing on insights from the work of the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee, which may consider the impact of economic inclusion policies on people with barriers to work (including people with caring responsibilities) and on gender equality in reports to Government
  • building capabilities of employment services to help women overcome barriers to work and break cycles of disadvantage, and ensuring employment services systems (such as Workforce Australia, Disability Employment Services and the New Remote Jobs Program) can support women's economic participation
  • ensuring housing policies are responsive to women, particularly those experiencing the highest need
  • developing and promoting pathways for First Nations girls to access quality education that meets their needs and aspirations
  • continuing efforts to improve job readiness, upskilling, workforce participation and economic security of women aged 40 and over
  • exploring further options to embed gender equity in all forms of education, from early years to tertiary systems
  • action to embed gender equality to support access and retention for women in emerging and growth industries like clean energy, cyber security and naval ship and submarine building.

What structural change looks like:
making workplace relations work better for women

The Fair Work Act 2009 and Fair Work Commission set out Australians' rights at work and govern how workplace relations decisions are made. Historically, these structures have not been designed to consider the unique experiences of women – including the fact women are more likely to work in feminised industries, and in jobs with less security and less pay. This has made it much more difficult for women to use these structures to support their claims for equal pay and conditions such as flexible work. The Government has reformed the Fair Work Act 2009 to ensure the workplace relations system works better for women. Key changes include:

  • making gender equality an objective of the Fair Work Act 2009 and setting up expert panels in the Fair Work Commission on gender pay equity and the care and community sector
  • banning pay secrecy
  • removing barriers to bargaining in low-paid, feminised sectors through the supported bargaining stream, to boost both wages and productivity
  • reforming how the Fair Work Commission considers equal remuneration cases to remove the need for a 'reliable male comparator' as reference point for value – a practice that had constrained the commission from assessing the value of work in feminised occupations and industries
  • introducing an entitlement to 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave
  • introducing a workplace duty to protect employees, prospective employees and persons conducting a business from third party violence and sexual harassment
  • making breastfeeding, gender identity and experience of family and domestic violence protected attributes.

The Fair Work Commission is now supported to make gender equality–informed decisions about pay and conditions, and can enforce additional workplace protections for women. Changes like this demonstrate the value of viewing the Government's legislative and institutional structures through a gender lens, in this case helping ensure the workplace relations framework operates fairly for all workers.

What others can do:
action outside of government

Families and schools can encourage kids' interest in all sorts of subjects, sports, hobbies, skills and occupations, making sure that children know that all options are open to them, and not making assumptions about their current or future skills based on their gender.

All employers have a role to play in supporting workplace gender equality, including to close the gender pay gap and reduce gender bias and discrimination in their workplace. While Government can implement enabling reforms, it is up to organisations to adopt policies, practices and structures that will assist women to achieve economic equality. This also includes addressing forms of discrimination that intersect with sexism, such as racism, homophobia and ableism.

Workplaces can act on their gender pay gap by conducting pay audits and committing to address their findings. They can address discriminatory approaches to hiring, promotion and access to professional development. Workplaces can also implement policies that respond to complaints about sexism and harassment in the workplace, including trauma-informed processes and providing access to expert support. Employers can create positive and respectful workplaces, including training staff to understand and respond to lower level sexism and harassment (such as sexist jokes and ignoring women in meetings) as this can become normalised in a workplace and have a detrimental impact on women's wellbeing and workplace engagement.Note 67

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency has resources to support gender best practice by employers.

To further advance gender equality in entrepreneurship and business, investment funds and philanthropists can implement their own gender responsive procurement and investment processes.

What structural change looks like: addressing industry gender segregation

Workforce gender segregation contributes to the gender pay gap, as men continue to dominate in industries and occupations with higher earnings. A highly gendered workforce also increases the risk of workforce shortages. Around 65% of occupations in shortage on the Skills Priority List have workforces that are over 80% men or women.Note 66 Government's efforts to address this include action across education, through procurement and in priority sectors. Fee-free TAFE targets priority groups including women facing economic insecurity, women undertaking study in non-traditional fields, people receiving income support payments and unpaid carers. The National Skills Agreement includes gender equality as one of the agreed inaugural national priorities and the Government has developed a new Australian Apprenticeship service delivery model with additional support for women in male dominated trades. The Australian Skills Guarantee includes targets for women for suppliers to Australian Government–funded major construction projects. At an industry level, the Government has joined the Equal by 30 campaign, which aims to close the gender gap across Australia's clean energy sector, and prioritised diversity and gender equality through the National Construction Industry Forum.

How we'll measure progress

The Government will measure and report on the following ambitions and outcomes to track whether change is happening or to highlight where progress has stalled and additional effort is required.


  • Close the gender pay gap.
  • Close the retirement income gender gap.

Key outcomes:

  • the gender pay gap closes
  • industries and occupations are less gender segregated
  • employers support an end to gender discrimination, and sexual harassment and violence in the workplace
  • the retirement income gap closes
  • women have access to homelessness services and secure long-term housing
  • the proportion of women‑owned businesses increases.

All employers have a role to play in supporting workplace gender equality, including to close the gender pay gap and reduce gender bias and discrimination in their workplace.

Data snapshot – economic equality and security

In 2023, Australia had a 12% gender pay gap, with women working full-time earning, on average, $238.00 less per week than men.Note 68 This pay gap is present across all industries and varies significantly across different locations in Australia. The gap ranges from 5.2% in public administration and safety, to 22.7% professional, scientific and technical services.Note 69

Australia's median gender pay gap is 19% for organisations with 100 or more employees, if overtime, bonuses, additional payments and the annualised wages of casual and part time workers are included in calculations. The gender pay gap can be wider for women who experience other forms of discrimination, such as First Nations women, culturally and linguistically diverse women and women with disability. These women can face a range of challenges seeking and progressing at work.Note 70

Drivers of the gender pay and earnings gaps are interrelated and include:

  • Gender segregation in the workforce, with female-dominated industries, such as the care and support economy, often characterised by low pay and job insecurity, while male dominated industries, like construction and mining, benefit from higher pay. Note 71 Within the broader Australian workforce, women are equally as likely as men to ask for a promotion or pay rise in their current job but are less likely than men to be successful in their request.Note 72
  • Caring responsibilities for children and other family members – for example, women in Australia face a 'motherhood penalty' where their earnings are reduced by an average of 55% in the first 5 years of parenthood.Note 73 Women are often expected to trade off paid work for unpaid caring responsibilities.
  • Women participating in paid work at lower rates than men. Women in Australia are much less likely to work full-time than women in many other OECD countries.Note 74 They are more likely to be underemployed and be in insecure work.Note 75 Women are also more likely to retire earlier than men, which may be related to caring responsibilities or health challenges – this is explored further under Priority area 4.
  • Gender discrimination, which is broadly defined and extends from systemic issues like the undervaluation of feminised work, through to workplace practices like allocation of less meaningful work to women, fewer opportunities for promotion, approaches to hiring and perceptions in pay negotiations.Note 76
  • Workplace harassment and violence, particularly in male dominated industries, which means women can feel unable to thrive and participate in the workplace. A 2022 Australian Human Rights Commission survey of over 10,000 people in Australia found that more than 2 in 5 women and one in 4 men have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past 5 years.Note 77
  • In 2018, workplace sexual harassment cost the Australian economy $2.6 billion in lost productivity.Note 78

Women have different experiences of economic equality in the workforce.

  • First Nations women are paid less on average than non-Indigenous women and First Nations men.Note 79
  • Women with disability who are employed are less likely to be employed in full-time jobs (46% compared to 71.7% of employed men with disability),Note 80 and have a larger weekly income gap than women without a disability, equating to $363 (42.1%).Note 81
  • Migrant and refugee women are more likely to work in low income, low skill, insecure jobs,Note 82 and culturally and linguistically diverse women also have a significantly lower rate of workforce participation compared to culturally and linguistically diverse men.Note 83
  • In 2022, of the 10 localities with the highest gender pay gaps, 9 were in regional Australia.Note 84 The average pay gap in 2021 between women in major cities and regional and remote women was $82/week.Note 85
  • Women who have been incarcerated experience particular barriers to work, given women are more likely to seek employment in care and support workforces, which are also more likely to include criminal record checks.

The gender pay gap, its drivers, as well as life events like relationship breakdown and experiences of domestic and family violence, contribute to women being more likely to live in poverty than men.Note 86 Households whose main earner is a woman have a higher average poverty rate than households headed by a male main earner (18% compared to 105),Note 87 and the majority of recipients of most income support payments are women – for example, Parenting Payment Single (94.2%), Parenting Payment Partnered (90.3%), Carer Allowance (74.6%), Carer Payment (71.1%), ABSTUDY Living Allowance (59.6%), and Age Pension (55.5%).Note 88

Women experience poverty differently.

  • First Nations women are over-represented in most of the lower weekly income brackets and under-represented in the highest income brackets.Note 89 
  • Divorced mothers are much more likely than divorced fathers to experience financial stress, with the financial vulnerabilities of divorced women being long-lasting after separation.Note 90 
  • More than a third of single mothers live in poverty compared to 18% of single fathers.Note 91

While women fare worse than men on most economic indicators, there are gender gaps in education where boys and men are worse off. Results from the 2023 National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) indicate that boys are falling behind girls academically.

  • Year 3 cohort data shows that the average NAPLAN scores of girls are significantly higher than boys in writing, and the percentage of girls at the 'needs additional support' level was lower than boys across all 4 literacy domains.Note 92
  • This academic gender disparity continues to widen as students progress through primary and secondary school (with numeracy being a key outlier where boys outperform girls).
  • Men are also under-represented at university, comprising only 39.5% of domestic enrolments.Note 93

Access to capital continues to remain a significant barrier for women-led small businesses.

  • In 2022, almost one in 4 company founders were women.Note 94
  • In 2021, a survey found 43% of women-owned, women-led businesses identified access to capital as a central barrier to growth.Note 95

Inequalities compound over the life course, with the gender pay gap, lower earnings, lower wealth more broadly, and higher lifetime likelihood of receiving government payments, meaning that women aged 60 to 65 have, on average, 25.1% less superannuation than men of the same age.Note 96

These inequalities over a life also mean that women may experience housing insecurity and homelessness, which becomes more acute in retirement. Many women face additional challenges of finding safe and secure long-term housing earlier in life as well. This is particularly evident for single women, who experience additional financial barriers simply because they don't have the economic security of a dual income relationship.Note 97 This conversely impacts on women who are in dual income relationships, who may also be unable to leave violent relationships due to a lack of economic independence and financial security or limited alternative accommodation options.Note 98

  • Between 2016 and 2021, women accounted for 81.7% of the increase in people experiencing homelessness.Note 99
  • Older women are one of the fastest growing cohort of people experiencing homelessness. These women are more likely than older men to be in supported accommodation for homelessness, staying temporarily with other households or living in severely crowded dwellings.Note 100
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