Inequality for women is often generalised to the gender pay gap. That’s just one aspect of a wider problem – what I call the “career choice gap” – which is enslaving many women to a life of financial hardship.
My mum was a stay-at-home mum. When my dad passed away, she found herself having to re-commence her working life all over again. She never had the opportunity to choose a career or build security for her later years. It was a stark lesson on the value of financial independence.
While teaching was my dream, I sacrificed my heart’s desire for a career path that would give me greater choices, allow me to explore multiple career pathways, build robust financial security and support my dear mum. Via accounting and project management, I found my true calling as a financial adviser.
In a way, I am now the teacher I had always wanted to be: I educate women about how to protect their own futures, provide for their children, and avoid being financially reliant on a partner.
Unfortunately, others haven’t had those same opportunities. I know of too many cases of women having made enormous personal sacrifices and wound up with little to show for it. (Women over 55 are becoming the face of homelessness in Australia.)
It’s time we spoke up about the career choice gap and its damaging effects on women and society at large.
Costs of security
For many women, career choice is often not what they enjoy but what circumstances push them into.
Personal ambitions and talents get sacrificed for the flexibility needs of her family; entrepreneurship aspirations take a back seat to raising kids and funding home ownership; career progression is stymied following time out of the workforce.
These sacrifices carry a monetary loss (lost earnings and lower super contributions) but can also dent their sense of self-worth.
Additionally, financial pressures can force women into unhealthy relationships, which may even involve domestic violence.
The bulk of caregiving responsibilities still fall to women, and not only childrearing but caring for elderly parents/in-laws due to cost (and quality) concerns around aged care.
Often, they juggle caring for older and younger generations simultaneously, leaving little time for paid work. Their incomes stall as do their super contributions.
Once they can resume full-time work, a lack of documented work experience restricts their employment opportunities, and career choices, while they struggle to afford study or retraining – and so the cycle continues.
The sad reality of our current system is that many parents (generally women) lose money by relying on childcare to return to work or self-employment.
Until spiralling costs are addressed and universally free or heavily-subsidised childcare is implemented, mothers may be faced with being pushed out of the workforce against their will.
Life is tough for singles, and not just for love.
Couples benefit from economies of scale, making living costs cheaper per person. Even our superannuation system favours couples through spouse contribution and superannuation splitting.
Singles are disadvantaged from saving for a home deposit, boosting retirement funds, and investing for their future. And with, on average, women earning 14% less than men, we shoulder the greatest burden.
Who would’ve thought living longer would be a problem?! But for many women, it is.
Aussie women statistically outlive men by 4.2 years. A longer lifespan naturally costs more.
Women already go into retirement at a financial disadvantage; living longer stretches those limited funds even further.
And forget spousal inheritance: most is tied up in the family home, while cash savings have dwindled on their partner’s healthcare and funeral costs.
Value of work
There is something perverse about how society values work.
Why are the people (usually women) who work in administration, care for our sick and elderly, raise and educate our children, and keep us healthy not valued appropriately?
We need a fundamental rethink on the value of work and where the skills of our best and brightest are being used, as well as incentivising and remunerating suitably.
Every individual is a valuable member of society. Yet for women especially, that value often goes unrecognised in monetary terms.
Collectively, we need to grasp the full implications of the career choice gap and push for positive change. Until a woman’s career choices are entirely her own, gender inequality remains the norm.
Note this is general advice only and you should seek advice specific to your circumstances.