Australian women retire with about half the amount of superannuation as men, and one-third of women will have nothing at all going into retirement, a new study by Per Capita has found. While parenting plays a key role in reducing women’s super, Australian workplaces also remain significantly gender-segregated, with more than 40% of men and a third of women working in industries dominated by their own gender.

Employment data for the May quarter from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, broken down into industry and sub-industry, shows that a number of industries continue to disproportionately attract men or women.

The most male-dominated industry is mining, where the workforce (which totals around 230,000 people) is around 87% male; in coal mining, less than 8% of workers are female. Construction and road transport are also both around 87% male. Major sections of manufacturing are also heavily male: while the industry overall is around 28% female, metal manufacturing subdivisions are both over 85% male. The only manufacturing sector with a high level of female participation is the small (35,000) textiles sector (58%). The tech sector, plagued by sexism, remains heavily male, at nearly 80%. 

Traditionally male-dominated professions like defence and public safety (police, fire brigades, etc) are significantly more integrated: defence is nearly 35% female and public safety 28.4%.

At the other end of the spectrum, Australia’s largest employer, health and social assistance, is strongly female. Social assistance, which means childcare and other social services, is over 80% female; hospitals are nearly 80% female; other medical services around 74%; aged care 77%. Education is also strongly female: overall, the sector is nearly 72% female, although tertiary education, at 58%, less so.

Overall, about 40% of men work in industries where less than 30% of their colleagues are women; about a third of women are in industries where less than 30% of their colleagues are male; and around 40% of women work in industries where less than 40% of the workforce is male.

There’s also been little shift in the gender balance over thirty years in many of these industries and some have gone backwards: in 1987, around 5% of coal mining employees were women; about 26% of the manufacturing workforce; 13.2% of the construction workforce was female and 16% of road transport — both higher than today; in IT, 46% of employees were women, far higher than today. Defence was 29% female and public safety had a greater proportion of women in the ’80s, 33%. Education has become significantly more female — it was 62% female compared to over 70% now. Healthcare and social assistance has grown a little more female — from 74% 30 years ago to 77% now.

And in a sign that construction is continuing to power the economy, the number of people employed in construction reached a new high in the May 2017 quarter, topping 1.1 million for the first time and lifting construction to its highest ever proportion of the workforce, 9.15%. And after several quarters of relatively flat growth, health and social care jumped again to over 1.56 million workers in trend terms, propelling it to a new high of 12.9% of the entire workforce. In contrast, agriculture has racked up its second quarter below 300,000 workers, or just 2.45% of the workforce.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey