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STRONGER TOGETHER: Empower Her to Financial Independence

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Last updated: 20/05/2024

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses how evolving societal norms have empowered women’s financial independence. She emphasises the crucial role of financial literacy in enabling women to achieve autonomy and self-reliance.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

In the quiet corners of our lives, money remains a topic often left unspoken. Yet, in an attempt to shift this narrative, I recently sat down with Ben Neilson, a local financial advisor from Complete Wealth, for the latest episode of our STRONGER TOGETHER podcast, “Money Matters: Women’s Road to Financial Independence since the 1950s.” Together, we discussed the changing roles of women and the shifting societal norms that have historically influenced their financial autonomy, highlighting the importance of financial literacy as a means for women to forge their own paths of independence and self-sufficiency.

Now, step back into to the mid-20th century, where the Australian workforce painted a stark picture of gender inequality. Women, constituting a mere 23% of the labour force, were often relegated to part-time or casual roles, if they worked at all, and earnt roughly 75% of what men made for equivalent work. Education and career opportunities were scarce, as societal norms prioritised marriage and motherhood over professional aspirations.

Fast forward to the present, and the landscape has transformed significantly. Women now make up nearly half of the workforce, and while the gender pay gap persists, it has narrowed, with women earning about 88 cents to a man’s dollar. This progress is attributed to improved access to education, changing attitudes towards gender roles, and more inclusive workplace policies, fostering a rise in female entrepreneurship and leadership.

Consider the hypothetical scenario of Jane, a married woman in 1954. As a typist, her financial security was tethered to her husband’s income. Her aspirations were secondary to her domestic and caregiving duties. Her husband took care of the finances; there was no reason for her to learn.

At 59, Jane's relationship unravelled. Suddenly, she was homeless, without stable accommodation, and working part-time hours. Why? Because she left all of that to her husband.

Now, meet Aisha. Today, she is one of the approximately 71% of Australian women that are active in the workforce, contributing to household incomes and sharing domestic duties more equitably. She’s a tech entrepreneur, balancing work and family life with her partner. They share household responsibilities and finances.

This shift, from traditional male breadwinner models to dual-income households, reflects evolving gender roles.  However, women still face challenges in achieving financial parity and independence, particularly in superannuation savings.

Women’s average superannuation at retirement age stands at $146,900, compared to men’s $204,107. Despite equal pay being legally mandated since 1969, persistent societal, industrial, and organisational factors contribute to this gap, affecting earning potential from recruitment onward due to issues such as unequal pay and biases in progression and promotion opportunities. It also reflects the often-interrupted careers, and reduced hours, due to childbearing and caregiving responsibilities.

To bridge this gap, policies like extending superannuation to paid parental leave and increasing the Low-Income Superannuation Tax Offset threshold are in place. Women can also employ strategies like salary sacrificing to enhance their superannuation.

However, financial independence is not just about money; it’s about choice and dignity. It empowers women like Aisha to navigate life’s transitions with confidence, aware that life doesn't always go to plan, and curveballs are a matter of when, not if. Unfortunate events happen, and when they do, you’ll want to stand on your own two feet.

Financial literacy is essential for making informed decisions and securing a stable future. It equips you to handle life’s uncertainties with confidence. If you’ve never been supported to learn about money and financial literacy, such as in the case of Jane, start now. Engage in conversations, share knowledge, and work towards your financial independence. Knowledge is power, and understanding finances is a critical step towards lasting independence and resilience.

Listen to the full Episode 10 of IMPACT Community Services’ STRONGER TOGETHER podcast by visiting Money Matters: Women's Road to Financial Independence since the 50's

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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