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Women and men in low economic resource households
In 2009–10, more women lived in low economic resource households than men (20% of women and 18% of men).
Economic hardship often means that people experience a relatively low material standard of living. For people who live in economic hardship, access to economic resources that provide for the consumption of goods and services such as food, housing, clothing, medical care and so on are limited. (Endnote 1) Low economic resources can also restrict a person's ability to be included in the society around them, and limit their opportunities to create the life they want. (Endnote 2)
Access to economic resources, household income and wealth, is key to understanding people's consumption possibilities. (Endnote 1) Household income can include earnings from a job or business, provided by the government as a pension or allowance, from superannuation or earned from other assets. However, income alone does not provide the full picture of the economic resources available to the household to support their standard of living. Households may also have access to wealth such as through bank accounts, shares, superannuation or property, which can be used, if necessary, to finance any living costs. Wealth may also generate income, such as rental income from investment property, or interest from savings accounts.
To help compare household income and wealth for households of different size and composition, disposable household income and household wealth are adjusted using an equivalence scale. This means that for a lone person household the equivalised disposable household income or wealth is equal to their actual disposable household income or wealth. For a household comprising more than one person, it is the amount of disposable household income or wealth that a single person household would require to enjoy the same standard of living as the household comprising more than one person.
Considering equivalised income and wealth together are important to understanding the total economic resources of the households. Those who have both low income and low wealth may not have resources to draw upon during times of need. In contrast, there may be those who experience low income but have high wealth (and vice versa) and therefore can enjoy a reasonable level of consumption. By simultaneously considering low income and low wealth (low economic resources) a better understanding of the economic resources available to women and men can be achieved.
In 2009-10, significantly more women aged 15 years or over (20%) lived in low economic resource households, compared to men (18%). The proportion of men and women living in low economic resource households remained stable between 2003-04 and 2009-10.
A household's levels of income and wealth are determined by a variety of factors. Circumstances such as a person's age or family composition (such as presence of a partner or children) can influence the level of economic resources available.(Endnote 1) As a person ages they have greater opportunities for generating higher income and accumulation of wealth. In addition, their family composition may change over time. Exploring these factors can help to understand why women and men may live in low economic resource households.
In 2009-10, men and women aged between 15 and 44 years experienced higher rates of living in low economic resource households (22% and 26%, respectively) than men and women aged 45 years and over (13%). More men and women aged 45–54 years (15% each) lived in low economic resource households than men and women aged 55 years and over (12% each). (Endnote 3)
These differences most likely reflect the accumulation of wealth and the growth in income potential that occurs over a working life. For instance, in 2009-10 the average equivalised household income peaks when the reference person was aged 45–54 years ($1,789 per week), and household wealth peaks at 55–64 years ($1,051,600). (Endnote 1)
A similar proportion of men and women lived in low economic resource households within most age groups. It only differed significantly in the 25-34 and 35-44 year age groups. Within those age groups there was a larger proportion of lone female parents living in low economic resource households. In 2009-10, lone mothers with dependent children represented 17% of all persons (aged 15 years and over) living in low economic resource households in 2009-10, while lone fathers represented 2%.
Overall, a higher proportion of lone mothers were living in low economic resource households (61%) than lone fathers (49%) in 2009-10. The greatest difference was seen in the 35-44 year age group where 66% of lone mothers and 42% of lone fathers were living in low economic resource households.
Lone mothers were significantly more likely to report one or more cash flow problems (79%) in the last 12 months compared to lone fathers (54%). However, a similar proportion of lone mothers and fathers reported being unable to raise $2,000 in an emergency (88% and 78% respectively).
The level of economic resources of lone mothers and fathers can be directly influenced by hours spent in paid employment. In June 2011, 57% of lone mothers were employed in the labour force compared with 70% of lone fathers. (Endnote 4) In 2006, lone mothers spent significantly more time on the unpaid work activities of child care and purchasing goods and services than fathers. (Endnote 5)
Working greater hours in paid employment means that lone fathers have, on average, a greater capacity to earn more income than lone mothers. In 2009-10, for instance, lone mothers' equivalised disposable household income was $541 per week, significantly lower than $730 for lone fathers. Over half (52%) of lone mothers had their main source main source of gross household income from government pensions and allowances, compared to 35% for lone fathers. (Endnote 3)
Without children or anyone else living in the household, the proportions of men and women living in low economic resource households were not significantly different (23% of men and 21% of women).
Between 2003–04 and 2009–10, the proportion of lone men living in low economic resource households was unchanged (between 24% and 23%), however it significantly decreased from 26% to 21% for lone women. The difference reflects both the relative increases in income and wealth for lone women over this period. Lone women households with low incomes decreased in this period from 31% to 26%, while lone women households with low wealth decreased from 24% to 20%.
For lone persons aged 15–34 years, lone women were more likely to be living in low economic resource households than lone men of the same age in 2009-10, (31% compared to 21% respectively). There were no significant differences in the proportions of women and men living in low economic resource households aged 35-64 years (22% and 24% respectively) or 65 years and over (19% and 23% respectively).
Many men and women living by themselves in low economic resource households reported financial difficulties. In 2009-10, there was no significant difference in the proportion of women and men who lived alone in low economic resource households reporting one or more cash flow problems in the last 12 months (51% of women and 44% of men). In addition, there was no significant difference in the proportions who could not raise $2,000 in an emergency (61% of women and 62% of men).
1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010, Household Wealth and Wealth Distribution, Australia 2009-10. (cat. no. 6554.0)
2. Australian Social Inclusion Board, Social Inclusion in Australia: How Australia is Faring 2009, Accessed 3 July 2012 <http://www.socialinclusion.gov.au/resources/asib-publications>
3. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010, Data available on request, Survey of Income and Housing
4. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011, Labour Force, Australia: Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Families, June 2011 (cat. no. 6224.0.55.001)
5. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006, How Australians Use Their Time, 2006 (cat. no. 4153.0)
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