Women earn their way to new roles

Author Liza Mundy says she thought about Prime Minister Julia Gillard when she penned her manifesto on the rise of the female breadwinner.

Not only does Australia’s first female prime minister embody the increasing economic power of women that Mundy chronicles in her book The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Sex, Love and Family, but Gillard’s partnership with former hairdresser now charity ambassador Tim Mathieson also embodies the “flip” Mundy observes is more often taking place in our romantic relationships, too.

“Increasingly it is the case within relationships that women are the ones who are earning more,” said Mundy, who is also a writer at The Washington Post.

“In [the United States] among working wives, nearly 40 per cent of working women are the higher earner in their marriage.”

Mundy will speak about her book in Sydney next weekend at the All About Women festival, which is sponsored by The Sydney Morning Herald.

Her work received significant media attention in her home country when it was published last year, sparking a cover story in Time magazine, not to mention a small backlash from some fellow feminists.

“There has been some feminist concern – that one doesn’t want to overemphasise women’s achievement, that we need to keep our attention focused on the glass ceiling and the gender pay gap,” she said, while acknowledging that both still exist.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the gender pay gap stood at 17.4 per cent in Australia last year, up from 2005, when it hit a low of 15.1 per cent.

But Mundy says: “We need to acknowledge the changes that are taking place.

“This is a very cliched way to say it, but I do think we’re sort of at a glass half full, glass half empty point in the conversation.”

Among these changes are higher rates of women undertaking tertiary study than their male counterparts, which Mundy contends could mean women will overtake men as primary breadwinners.

The challenges this poses to traditional dynamics in romantic relationships are complex.

“I tried to argue to younger women if there’s a generation of men now who are maybe not as well credentialled as you are, that could potentially be an advantage because their career is not necessarily going to drive you out of the workforce,” she said, noting that it is still usually women whose careers take a back seat when both partners are professionals of similar standing.

See Liza Mundy at All About Women, supported by The Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney Opera House, April 7.


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