Female breadwinners on the slow march forward

The incidence of “female breadwinner” households is slowly rising with women out-earning their male partners in nearly a quarter of long-term relationships.

The Household Income and­ Labour Dynamics in Australia survey finds the growth in the number of dual-earner families represents a challenge to the “traditional male-breadwinner model that underpins many economic and social institutions in this country.”

The study shows the incidence of female breadwinner households (in which the woman earns ten per cent more than her male partner) has increased from about 23 per cent in the early 2000s to nearly 25 per cent in the 2010-11 financial year. It had previously peaked at 26 per cent in the 2008-09 financial year when many male dominated jobs were under pressure as a result of the global financial crisis.

Similarly, the incidence of males being the primary breadwinner has declined from 70.1 per cent in 2000-01 to 68.5 per cent in 2010-11.

Females who earn more are more likely to hold a university degree and work in a managerial position than their male partners. However, they are less likely to have dependent children than men who are the primary breadwinners, suggesting the slow trend towards female breadwinners could be at the expense of more children.

In male breadwinner households, women tend to work substantially fewer hours per week at about 19.5 hours compared to about 43.1 hours for men. In female breadwinner households the male and female worked about the same hours, reflecting women’s higher hourly earnings and education levels.

The survey also shows that both the man and woman work full time hours in about one third of households. In another 30 per cent of couple households, the man works full time while the woman works part time.

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