Income inequality steady over two decades

Dominic GianniniAAP
The latest Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey has been released.
Camera IconThe latest Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey has been released. Credit: AAP

Income inequality has remained steady for the past two decades, while single parents and young Australians are more likely to be worse off, a new household study shows.

Home ownership rates have also decreased, with more adults between the ages of 18 and 29 living at home, according to the latest Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey.

Just under two-thirds of people live in homes they own, while homeowner debt levels have doubled in real terms to more than $355,000.

Meanwhile, the survey shows the way wealth is distributed across the population’s different economic groups has changed little since studies began two decades ago.

In 2019, almost a quarter of children in single parent families were living in poverty.

Parents in coupled families are significantly more likely to both be employed than in 2001, and the number of families with pre-school aged children in childcare has almost doubled to more than one in two.

Household disposable income has only grown six per cent since 2009 after jumping 28 per cent in the eight years prior to that.

Aussies took home an additional $2300 on average each year in the eight years to 2017, compared to around $3000 a year between 2003 and 2009.

Report author Professor Roger Wilkins said the HILDA survey reveals younger Australians are facing a more daunting path to reaching financial independence.

“It takes them longer to leave home, longer to find full-time work, and home ownership is getting more out of reach,” he said.

“The economic challenges from the COVID pandemic will only make that worse.”

Young people are generally worse off due to higher rates of casual work and increased levels of unemployment.

The snapshot was taken in 2019, before the emergence of COVID-19, so results are expected to worsen as a greater picture of the pandemic emerges.

Australians are also becoming increasingly vulnerable to psychological distress, which is at its highest among the country’s Indigenous population.

Rates of psychological distress have soared in the past 15 years with young people between the ages of 15 and 24 the most vulnerable, while a third of all Australians now feel they are chronically stressed for time.

Obesity is a growing problem, with almost 60 per cent of people classified as overweight or obese and little more than a third of Aussies exercising for at least 30 minutes, three times a week.

Despite men doing about three hours more housework than at the start of the century it is still 21 hours less than women, who put in 48 hours of unpaid work around the home every week.

This is probably why women feel more pressed for time than males, with almost four in 10 women feeling stressed “often” or “almost always” compared to fewer than three in 10 men.

The survey has since 2001 tracked more than 17,500 people across 9500 households.

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