By Matt Lloyd-Cape and Lucy Tonkin.
Open a newspaper on any day and you’ll be met with a new story about Australia’s housing crisis. How older women are the fastest growing cohort to experience homelessness, or that female heads of lone parent households are most likely to experience significant and prolonged housing stress. But we tend not to think of the housing system as being structurally biased.
However, our report “Glass Ceilings” shows that when it comes to housing, being a man pays dividends.
Using data from the Housing Monitor survey we show how women experience significantly lower housing security and affordability, see less value in constantly rising house prices, and have a larger appetite for more equitable housing policies.
When it comes to tenure, women are less likely to own a home, and more likely to rent. This is not surprising, given the 14 per cent gender pay gap, meaning that women have $100 less per week for housing. As a consequence, 40% of women renters reported being “very concerned” about their ability to buy a house during their lifetime, compared to 30% of men.
One challenge to home ownership is the deposit hurdle. When presented with the statement “the main reason I don’t own a house is that it is impossible to save up a deposit”, 46.7% of female renters strongly agreed, compared to 33.9% of men. And part of the reason is that it turns out that the Bank of Mum and Dad – effectively the nation’s ninth biggest mortgage provider – is not an equal opportunities lender.
In the survey, 34% of male homeowners said that they received familial financial assistance to purchase their first home, compared to 24% of women – a full third less. The reason why this would be the case is a little unclear, although we can make some educated guesses from other research. There are biases in the way in which families plan their legacies and estates: It is estimated that only one in ten farms are left to women in Australia, with the desire to keep the family farm together sometimes overriding the compulsion to fairly split assets amongst children. There are also cultural habits, like how a woman’s family tends to pay for the wedding. This might lead parents to consider their equity equally split between their sons and daughters, even if the investment in a wedding is enjoyed in a single afternoon.
Whatever the cause, this “gift gap” interacts with the gender pay gap and the super gap to reduce the wealth building, housing affordability and housing security of women. And given that there will be an estimated $3.5 trillion transfer of wealth from baby boomers to younger generations by 2050, even slight biases will have billion dollar consequences.
While public policy may struggle to change cultural practices, it should at least be aware of such disadvantages and aim to mitigate them. However, many elements of housing policy, while appearing gender blind, may have been making the housing system work less well for women rather than improving it. The decline in public housing and subsequent explosions in waiting times have made women and children more vulnerable. Our lightly regulated private rental sector disproportionately affects women, while the favourable tax treatment of home ownership provides more benefits to men.
Tax breaks for property investment is also significantly gender-skewed: 18% of male respondents to the Housing Monitor reported owning an investment property, compared to 11% of women. This means that negative gearing and capital gains tax discounting direct billions of dollars more toward men.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, women were more concerned over the declining stock of social housing and more likely to rate housing affordability as a key electoral issue – 64% of Gen Z women ranked housing affordability as extremely important in determining their vote, compared to 45% of Gen Z men.
Women were also far more likely to strongly support measures such as building more public housing, regulating rent prices and increasing Commonwealth Rent Assistance.
Women’s housing outcomes are just one example of how the housing system can magnify existing inequalities. First Nations people, members of the LGBTQI+ community, refugees, migrants, people living with a disability and many other marginalised groups face additional, often intersecting, barriers to secure, affordable housing.
There shouldn’t be winners and losers when it comes to the fundamental right to shelter. However, without taking a systematic gendered lens to housing policies, we are building in disadvantage for half of the population.