Answer: A lifetime of economic insecurity unless we see more $ for more childcare places
“Women in Australia today work less, earn less and retire with less than men. This is, quite frankly, a very scary situation. It seems that woman are predestined to be economically less well-off than men during their working lives and to be more likely to spend their final years being financially insecure, if not living in outright poverty“. Anne Summers, 2013
I have finally read The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers. It is a powerful and important read. I have summarised what ’the misogyny factor’ means for mums in this post. Its a scary conclusion: a lifetime of economic insecurity unless the Government fixes our broken childcare system.
For most mums, finding the time to read a book is a plane trip without the kids. Bulleted below are the key facts that speak directly to our lives as mums. In my mind, change starts with knowledge and a fire in the belly. If these facts leave you angry, lets get even. Start by signing this petition to get childcare back on our political agenda.
Now, over to ‘The Misogyny Factor’:
- Although around 67% of Australian women are in the workforce, compared to almost 78% of men, almost half of these women are in part-time work (and its often not great work either), giving Australia a workforce participation rate that’s lower than most other OECD countries (p51).
- During the years that women are having and raising children, their workforce participation rate drops off markedly. A 2009 study that tracked 2000 young people’s lives over a number of years found that when they reached age 36, of those involved in parenting, only 16% of the women were in full-time employment, compared with 88% of the men (p52).
- Summers share this and other similar statistics to make the point that ‘this not only has consequences for individual women who will earn considerable less over their lifetime…, but there are also consequences for the country‘. The impact on Australia’s GDP is a staggering. One study found that if the disincentives to women working were removed, the country would be $25 billion better off (p52).
- Summers goes on to explore lifetime earning inequalities between women and men. A 2012 report is cited that showed that a25 year old woman with a post graduate qualification will earn $1.29 million less than a man who sat next to her in class. As summers concluded, ‘there is at least a million-dollar penalty to being a young woman in Australia today’ (p53-54).
- Summers asks, ‘Why should women bother to put all those years into learning if they are going to be penalised financially? This is, in effect, a gender tax because it applies across all income groups, across all education levels and across parental status; the only variant is gender. At every level, on every criterion, and in virtually all circumstances women earn less than men’. (p55)
- She goes on to explain how the gender tax can’t be explained by the fact that women do different work, work at more junior levels and have interrupted careers. She explains how in fact, ‘woman are all too often actually paid less than men even when they are doing exactly the same job’. (p57)
- The inevitable result of a lifetime of working less and earning less than men is that women have far less superannuation. I have posted about this previously here. Currently, the average retirement payout for men is $198,000. For woman, it is $112,600. (p70)
- Summers talks about women’s earnings at length because she argues that financial self-sufficiency is one of the essential pre-conditions for gender equality. She then draws a powerful conclusion: “If women are required to absent themselves from the workforce for lemgthy periods when they have children, or if they have to work part-time for many years, they are not going to be able to have the kinds of careers that men, or women without children, can have. They will lose the skills, and the confidence, to resume a career path. Therefore, there will be fewer women in the pipeline, making it much harder for women to reach senior levels. And this is why so few of them do.” (p63)
- Reflecting on why it is so difficult for women with children to remain economically active, she points to ‘Australia’s hopeless childcare system’. ‘It is difficult to think of another area of policy where the government spends upwards of %5 billion a year on something that is found satisfactory by so few people’. (p65)
- It is noted that while government spending has more than tripled since 2005, the number of children in care has grown by only 20 per cent. A hopeless system indeed! (p65)
- Further, a Grattan Institute report has noted that ‘support for childcare has about double the impact of spending on parental leave’, in terms of influencing women’s workforce participation (p68). It is interesting that no-one as yet is talking about increasing the number of child care places this election campaign!
- Comparing Australia with France, we see that other counties do child care so much better than us. Anne tells us that ‘Australia has done virtually nothing over the past 40 years to harmonise not just work and family, but work, family and school. Schoolchildren still get twelve weeks holiday, while their parents get four; the school day starts at around the same time as the office day, but ends much earlier;
What can we do?
In 2007, Kevin Rudd committed to ending the ‘double drop off’ by building 260 new child care centres. In 2010, this promise was ditched, for no convincing reason.
With another federal election drawing close, lets put fixing our failing childcare system back on the political agenda. Academic and social commentator Eva Cox has a ‘non brainer’ solution:
Fund child care as a public service, like schooling: What happened to quality neighbourhood community children’s services that took in kids for the hours they and their parents needed? The early years are the time when kids learn most so they need good quality, communal, affordable, if not free, centres. So let’s start by directing subsidies to the services which meet various local needs: more spaces for babies, flexible hours, located where and when needed, plus more services for school kids too!
Lets get back to publicly funded child care. Sign our petition TODAY.
Anne Summers, 2013, The Misogyny Factor
Eva Cox, 2013, ‘Feminism on the Election Agenda’, The Hoopla, 17 July 2013: http://thehoopla.com.au/feminism-agenda/