Women experience disadvantages across a range of social and economic indicators. Whether in education, the job market, unpaid domestic labour or the superannuation system, women consistently experience poorer outcomes than men. These outcomes reflect the gendered development and character of culture, institutions and social policy in Australia.
Nowhere is this more evident than in housing.
This paper explores some of the gendered inequalities within the housing system, based on the Australian Housing Monitor, a recent survey of nearly 4000 people. Differences in how men and women experience affordability, security, and quality of housing are evident across nearly every metric.
For example, women reported experiencing significantly higher financial difficulties in relation to housing than men, whether they are renting, or have mortgages.
Women were more likely to put off leaving an unwanted relationship due to housing costs than men. They are also more likely to report being negatively affected by higher house prices and higher rents, whereas men feel they are more likely to benefit from them.
Not surprisingly, women were more pessimistic about their future housing prospects than were men.
Perhaps uniquely, our survey offers the opportunity to examine in detail women’s attitudes toward housing policy at a national level. The survey reveals that women are significantly more likely to prefer government intervention in the housing market to address housing cost and inequity than are men. While this aligns with research findings that women are more likely to support more redistributive policies than men, the scale of difference between male and female support for more housing intervention appears to be much higher than in other policy areas.
For example, recent research indicates a marginal difference of 2-3% in support for greater government investment in the care economy between men and women, and very little difference over support for increasing Jobseeker payments. However, when it comes to measures to address the drivers of inequity in housing, such as supporting the building more public housing or introducing rent caps, the gender difference is frequently above 10%.
This wide gap is likely to be symptomatic of the material differences in outcomes that men and women experience: men are far more likely to benefit from ownership, both as owner-occupiers and as investors, which has been increasingly rewarded under housing tax and spending policies of the past three decades. Women on the other hand are more likely to rely on social housing which has been chronically underfunded and largely residualised over the same time period.
The disadvantages women experience in other areas of society, such as in the labour market, contribute to and are to a degree caused by poorer housing outcomes. The scale of difference between male and female attitudes toward housing policies may reflect the foundational nature of housing for securing other outcomes in life.
As with other “losers” in the current housing system, such as young and low-income people, and recently arrived migrants, the gender differences in attitudes towards housing affordability will likely make housing more of an electoral issue for parties to grapple with, as the proportion of “losers” increases in relation to “winners”.
Overall, this paper shows that housing in Australia is at the heart of an experiential and policy preference complex, made up of multiply interacting characteristics – demographic, family structure and care, labour market, welfare, climate, locational and other circumstances – which are specifically highly gendered. Targeted gender-sensitive housing policy measures are needed in order to address horizontal and intergenerational inequality between women and men. Without appropriate policy intervention, inequality will also continue to worsen vertically (through population cohorts), with women, and also children, disproportionately located towards the bottom.
Women are more likely to rent
Both female and male renters indicated a significant level of rental stress in the survey. Approximately 1 in 5 private sector renters of any gender reported “struggling” or “falling behind” their rental payments. However, women are 6% more likely to report being a private sector renter, meaning that they are disproportionately affected by low tenure security, and other disadvantages affecting renters.
Women are less likely to own
Women are 5% less likely to own a house as an owner-occupier. Female owner-occupiers were also 9% less likely to own an investment property.
Women who own property report a significant level of mortgage stress in the survey. More than 1 in 4 female mortgage holders reported either struggling or falling behind with their mortgage payments, compared to less than 1 in 5 male mortgage holders. A gender gap in confidence with mortgage repayments was also visible between members of the same generation. Female Millennial homeowners were 10% more likely to report that keeping up with their mortgage was a “constant struggle” than male Millennial homeowners, while Baby Boomer women were 21% less likely to report “keeping up with [their] mortgage without any difficulty” than men of the same generation.
Women own later
Men report buying a home earlier and paying off their mortgage at a younger age. 41% of male outright owners were under the age of 60, compared to 31% of female outright owners. This delay in outright ownership for women means higher housing costs later in life.
The ‘Gift Gap’ – Women receive less from the bank of mum and dad
Young women were significantly less likely to report receiving financial support to purchase a home than young men. Only 21% of female Millennial homeowners reported receiving financial support or a gift from their family in order to buy their house, compared with 33% of male Millennial homeowners. For Gen Z homebuyers 30% of men reported having received financial support from their family or partner’s family to buy their first home, compared with 25% of women.
We find that not only are women less likely to report receiving financial support within each generation, but that the rate of change between generations shows that women are receiving proportionately less family support over time.
This indicates a gender imbalance in intergenerational wealth transfers, which, if true of the wider population, would replicate and entrench wealth disparity between women and men.
Women benefit less from housing wealth which interacts with superannuation
The gender gap in superannuation was reflected in the Housing Monitor results. 61% of men reported being “fairly” or “very” confident that they would have enough superannuation for retirement. This is contrasted with 45% of women. Gender discrepancies in superannuation savings have been identified as a factor driving poor housing outcomes for older women, with lower superannuation savings meaning that housing costs and mortgage debt are more impactful for women later in life.
Women report fewer benefits from rising house prices
Overall, women were less likely than men to report having benefited from long term increases in house prices. These findings reflect the ownership rate difference between men and women, with wealth gains from property ownership flowing disproportionately towards men.
Women have lower expectations of the future
Women report less optimism regarding their ability to own a home in the future. 54% of women who do not already own a home stated that they were “very concerned” with their ability to afford a home in their lifetime. This is compared with 41% of men.
Housing insecurity and relationships
Past research has found domestic and family violence to be a significant driver of women’s homelessness, while inability to secure suitable housing leads thousands of Australian women and their children to return to abusive households annually.
Alarmingly, 1 in 10 respondents to the Housing Monitor reported that they had delayed leaving a partner due to costs associated with moving out. This number grows amongst lower and middle-income respondents, with 22% of low-income Gen Z Men and 22% of middle-income Millennial women reporting this experience.
Attitudes to policy
The Housing Monitor found a very large gap between the attitudes of men and women when it comes to housing policy.
Women respondents to our survey were more likely to consider housing affordability as an extremely important issue, with 53% of women compared with 36% of men ranking this issue as a 9 or 10 on a 1-10 scale of importance when it comes to voting intention.
Women were more likely to designate the lack of social housing as being an issue of extreme concern when it comes to voting. Female respondents were more likely than male respondents to support rental caps and an increase to Commonwealth Rent Assistance.
Women were also more supportive of interventions which would improve equity in housing than were men. However, women appeared less supportive of interventions that would affect their personal property or neighbourhood, such as subdivision of nearby land or the prospect of their home stopping growing in value, to help housing affordability.
Additionally, while 50% of men stated that they would “strongly” or “somewhat” support removing tax incentives such as negative gearing, 43% of women chose these responses. These responses are consistent with higher levels of housing insecurity revealed in the experience reported by women.
 Eva Ranehill and Roberto A Weber, ‘Gender Preference Gaps and Voting for Redistribution’ (2022) 25(3) Experimental Economics 845.
 Essential Research, Essential Report Topic Health System (April 2022) <https://essentialreport.com.au/tag/health-system>.
 Essential Research, Support for Raising the Rate of JobSeeker (1 May 2023) <https://essentialreport.com.au/questions/support-for-raising-the-rate-of-jobseeker>.
 Thevini Kirupakaran, A Right to Housing: A Gendered Perspective on Housing and Taxation (St Vincent De Paul Society, 8 October 2015).
 Charlene K Baker et al, ‘Domestic Violence, Housing Instability, and Homelessness: A Review of Housing Policies and Program Practices for Meeting the Needs of Survivors’ (2010) 15(6) Aggression and Violent Behavior 430 (‘Domestic Violence, Housing Instability, and Homelessness’).
 Equity Economics, Nowhere to Go – The Benefits of Providing Long Term Social Housing to Women That Have Experienced Domestic and Family Violence (15 July 2022) <https://www.equityeconomics.com.au/report-archive/nowhere-to-go-the-benefits-of-providing-long-term-social-housing-to-women-that-have-experienced-domestic-and-family-violence>.