The (small) rise of the ‘female breadwinner’

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Australia has experienced a slight rise in the proportion of married couples where the female earns substantially more than the man.

But the ‘male breadwinner’ model remains the dominant arrangement across most households, according to data from University of Melbourne’s Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey.

The latest HILDA data shows that between 2000 to 2011, the proportion of partnered women who take home the bulkier pay packet has increased from 23.5% to 24.5%. Men still earn the larger salary in about 69% of households.

Members of ‘female-breadwinner’ couples tend to be older, in longer relationships, and are more likely to have a university education and work in a managerial or professional position.

They are less likely to have any dependent children. The HILDA data also reinforces the increasingly prevalence of dual-earner families. Both male and females are employed fulltime in one third of all Australian couple households.

The key difference between 'male breadwinner' and 'female breadwinner' households was that women tend to work fewer hours than men in 'male breadwinner' households (in particular, they often work part-time), whereas men tend to work as many hours as their partner (or even more hours) in 'female breadwinner' households.

Men still earn the larger salary in about 69% of households.

Author of the article, Professor Mark Wooden, from the University’s Melbourne Institute, said the findings are significant because Australia’s economy was built on the assumption that males earn more.

“Key planks of the nation’s social and labour market policies that were developed in the 20th century were predicated on a ‘male breadwinner’ model,” he said.

HILDA is Australia’s only large-scale nationally representative longitudinal household survey. It uses annual interviews with more than 17,000 Australians to create a detailed picture of how their lives are changing over time.

The HILDA Survey was initiated, and is funded, by the Australian Government through the Department of Social Services.

Source: ‘Female Breadwinner Families’ (HILDA Report 2014, Part 3, Chapter 8)