In Australia, households where both parents are employed make up 58 per cent of all couple households with children compared to only 40 per cent in 1983 (ABS 1995).
These trends are similar across other Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries with the UK, New Zealand and the US all having a high proportion of households where both parents are employed. Having two earners in a household has now become necessary for many families to make ends meet and to enter and remain in the housing market.
Across the OECD, more than 55 per cent of couple families with children have dual-earners, with around 35 per cent of families having both parents work full-time.
Part-time or full-time work
In Australia, dual-earners are as common as the average for OECD, however Australian couples are more likely to favour one parent working full-time, and the other part-time. Australian women tend to work part-time for a number of reasons, including the types of industries that they are likely to be employed in, values around raising children and the cost of child care in Australia, which has shown to have increased considerably over time (AMP.NATSEM Costs of Kids report).
Over time, the presence of dual-earner households has not only increased, but so has the importance of the female partner’s earnings.
Many households now have a female breadwinner - that is, where the woman earns more in wages than their male partner.
Over the past 10 years, female breadwinner households have increased in Australia from 22.3 per cent in 2001 to 24.2 per cent back in 2011.
Female breadwinner households are more prominent in Tasmania - comprising 35 per cent of all dual-earner households; followed by New South Wales and Victoria at 26 per cent of households.
Female breadwinner households are less common in resource rich Western Australia at around 18 per cent of dual-earner households.
One of the more revealing findings relates to the relative reliance of dual-earner families on female breadwinners as times get hard. The proportion of female breadwinners rose systematically during the GFC compared to the pre-GFC boom in Australia, and across the full distribution of household income, increasing from an average of 22 per cent of households to 24 per cent. This pattern may well have occurred because male workers are more exposed to job losses, loss of shifts, overtime or bonuses during economic downturns than women. Whatever the explanation, this result shows how the burden of supporting families through work can vary between men and women over the course of the economic cycle.
The age profile of female breadwinners takes on a U-shape, with younger age households, (typically those before children are introduced into the equation) more likely to be female breadwinners - around 25 per cent. During the child bearing and rearing years, the proportion of female breadwinner households decreases to around one in five, but increases again as women age, peaking at almost 34 per cent of dual earner households when the woman is aged 60 or more.
Female breadwinner households currently bring in $2,375 in weekly earnings - around $100 less than male breadwinner households, which have average earnings of $2,480 each week. Examining wages of male and female breadwinner households by family type, across all family types, male breadwinner households earn more on average each week than female breadwinner households, with the largest difference in couple households with non-dependents - a difference of $337 per week in earned income (Table 3). Couple households with dependent children have little difference in earned income when comparing female and male breadwinner households.
Source: AMP's The changing shape of Australian families