A new report by Equity Economics commissioned by The Parenthood has revealed Australian mothers fall behind their global peers in regard to workforce participation when they have children and never catch up. This is despite starting at the top of global standings on education levels.
This gap is costly from a social and economic perspective at an individual and collective level; it relegates too many women and children into poverty or financial insecurity, entrenches gender inequity and hampers national productivity. While the motherhood penalty persists everywhere, among developed countries few have done as little as Australia to tackle it.
Since 2006 when the World Economic Forum published its first Global Gender Gap Index Australia has consistently held the number 1 rank for the educational attainment of women and girls. There are few nations in the world that guarantee girls and women access to education as consistently as Australia. But while we have retained the top rank for educational attainment, when it comes to economic participation women in Australia lag their global peers. Back in 2006 we ranked 12th for women’s workforce participation but since then we have steadily slid backwards and in 2021 Australia fell to 70th on this measure.
Sweden is well regarded as a world leader in terms of parenting policies. Before women have children, women in Australia participate in work to a higher degree than women in Sweden. After the birth of a child the pattern changes.
The modelling in this report shows that if an average Australian woman had the same workplace participation patterns after having children as an average Swedish woman, she would earn an additional $696,000 over her working life; and retire with an additional $180,000 in superannuation.
It is time for Australia to invest in expanded paid parental leave and universal access to high quality early childhood education and care. In doing so Australia will be investing in the economic and social wellbeing of women, children and the nation’s future. It is time to bring Australian mothers to the front - not the back - of the pack.
Back of the Pack - How Australia's Parenting Policies are failing Women and our Economy