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Australian women have lower income, less labour force engagement and poorer health than men, a Monash University-led report has found.

The first Australian Women’s Health and Wellbeing Scorecard: Towards equity for women found that at current rates it will take 70 years to reach full time employment equality with men, and more than 200 years to reach income equity.

Women’s labour force absence alone cost $72 billion in lost GDP annually, driving health inequities and deterioration, which has prompted calls for urgent action.

“Women disproportionately have lower income, and less engagement in the labour force, which drives poorer health, even in a high-income country like Australia,” said report co-author, Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation (MCHRI) Director Professor Helena Teede.

Professor Helena Teede

The scorecard found women had poorer labour force outcomes, lower incomes, and less superannuation than men. While these outcomes were improving slowly, gender gaps remain large, particularly around full-time employment, labour force absence, income and superannuation.

More women than men experienced elevated psychological distress, which has risen sharply in women aged 18-24 and 55-64 since 2001, linked to financial inequity.

Women aged 18-24 reported the highest distress in all years since 2001. Women aged 55-64 went from reporting the lowest distress in 2001 to the second highest in 2018.

The report found that many self-reported indicators of physical health deteriorated over the past decade and women with lower incomes consistently experienced poorer health than others.

“Poor health is known to reduce income; and low income is known to increase risk of poor health creating a cycle of disadvantage for Australian women, with impact on women from diverse backgrounds even greater,” Professor Teede said.

“Removing the structural barriers that prevent equality is an urgent priority to prevent the declining health of women in Australia. Urgent action is required to address women’s health and wellbeing, through a women-centred, evidence-based approach – focused on achieving real change for women.”

MCHRI was working towards a world-first integrated Australian Women’s Public Health, Wellbeing and Equity Institute to address these challenges, Professor Teede said.

Report lead, MCHRI Women’s Economics and Value Based Care Unit lead Associate Professor Emily Callander said equitable health and wellbeing was a social justice issue and critically linked to financial equity and accessible prevention and healthcare.

“Having good health, meaningful employment and a decent level of income and wealth allows individuals to fully participate in and contribute to society. These are also vital for health, wellbeing and for economic growth.”

Some of the report’s highlights include:

  • Women’s average income and superannuation balances increased from 2001-2020, but women continued to have lower income and less superannuation than men.
  • In 2020, there was a 19-percentage point gap in full time employment, a $23,767 annual income gap and a $44,746 superannuation gap between men and women.
  • Women’s social functioning, emotional and physical ability to perform their role, declined from 2001-2020, linked to financial inequity.
  • In 2020, women reported poorer health outcomes than men in every health domain except general health.
  • Women’s health in many domains is going backwards; most reported poor health in mental health, physical and social functioning, emotional and physical ability to perform a role, vitality and bodily pain.
  • Low-income women had poorer health than high income women in every domain of health assessed. There was a more than 20 percentage point gap between lowest and highest income women for most domains.

The MCHRI will produce the scorecard annually.

Read more in MJA InSight+