The unfair go

Frank Stilwell & David Primrose

The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) was commissioned by Catalyst Australia to conduct a study of the distribution of wealth in Australia.

The NATSEM data supplements previous sources and gives us an up-to-date picture of who is wealthy in Australia and who is not.

What is particularly interesting about the new data is the disaggregated analysis of wealth distribution, classified according to a number of overlapping social categories: age, income, gender, occupation, industry and household composition.

This supplements a previous NATSEM analysis that showed that the richest fifth of Australian households each have, on average, forty times more wealth than the poorest fifth of the population.

Analysis of the new NATSEM data confirms that wealth in Australia remains concentrated in the hands of a wealthy few.

The minority sitting at the higher end of the income scale have reaped the benefits of the economic growth in recent decades by disproportionately increasing their personal wealth.

This has been at the expense of the majority at the other end of the income scale, whose share of personal wealth has declined relative to those high-income earners. Large wealth disparities also exist between different occupational and industry groupings.

The NATSEM data also highlights the persistence of disparities in the wealth of Australian men and women.

Average levels of wealth for men and women remain highly unequal across the categories of age, income, occupation and industry. Even when women and men appear to be relatively equal according to some measurements, there are other gendered dimensions of economic inequality.

For example, while the wealth levels of those working in high-status occupations are not dissimilar on average, there are many fewer women within those occupations.

Such discrepancies often translate into relative poverty for women during retirement, as well as increased reliance on government support and pensions.

These persistent economic inequalities run counter to the ethos of 'a fair go' often assumed as a fundamental characteristic of Australian society.

Comprehending the complex dimensions of this problem is therefore an essential first step in remedying the situation and promoting more effective egalitarian social policies.

[Click here to read the full article]