Ms Canberra is no Ms Average

Ms Canberra is no Ms Average

Others may be jealous but she's one smart cookie, writes Emma Macdonald.

Just who is the average Canberra woman? And is she so different to her sisters across Australia?

As it turns out, she is.


Canberra women present something of a statistical anomaly. They are wealthier, better educated and healthier than other Australian women. And they make informed choices that set them apart from the rest of the nation when bearing and raising children.

But while that all sounds like good news for the capital's female population, there is one consequence of leading this privileged existence. Canberra women are busy. Flat out, in fact.


The most recent survey of the demographic of women in the territory makes for interesting, if exhausting, reading.

Canberra women are more likely than their fellow Australians to be of working age, more likely to be working full-time and working longer hours.

The notion of a 37½-hour working week gets a good workout in the ACT with 22.92 per cent of women working between 35 and 39 hours - compared with a national average of 18.57 per cent.

But ACT women are more likely to work longer hours than that, with a larger percentage working between 40 and 48 hours a week compared with the national average.

While the gap between the men's and women's work participation rate is 13.1 per cent nationally, the ACT's gap is smallest - at 8.6 per cent. Canberra women are also less likely to be part-time employees, at 35.6 per cent compared with 45.7 per cent nationally.

They are less likely to ever find themselves out of work, with a 3.5 per cent unemployment rate compared with a 5.4 per cent nationally and even when approaching retirement age of between 55 and 64, Canberra women are working, with 58.7 per cent still in a job compared with 55.4 per cent nationally.

It is therefore no surprise that the offspring of Canberra women are more likely to find themselves in childcare, with 43.5 per cent of children under the age of three in formal care compared with 33.2 per cent nationally. By the age of four, that percentage rises to 56 per cent compared with a national average of 45.3.

It's also no surprise more women are holding down jobs in white-collar professional fields, with more than a third (33.73 per cent) of Canberra working women employed in public administration and safety compared with a national average of 6.84 per cent.

A further 7.99 per cent are in professional, scientific and technical services compared with a national average of 7 per cent. Canberra women are far less likely to work in blue-collar unskilled jobs such as retail, at 8.29 per cent compared with 13.16 per cent nationally.

What enables them to meet the selection criteria for these high-flying jobs is a higher level of education.

The percentage of Canberra women with a degree is 18.54 per cent compared with 12.04 per cent nationally. A further 3.72 per cent obtained a graduate diploma compared with 1.73 per cent nationally and a whopping 6.11 per cent obtained a postgraduate qualification compared with 2.69 per cent nationally.

Canberra women are more able to pay off their HECS debts due to higher average earnings.

The good news for local women is they are less represented in all wage categories under $52,000, and more represented in wage categories above it.

Canberra women are twice as likely to be earning in the $65,000 to $77,999 bracket than the national average (8.92 per cent compared with 4.3 per cent) and almost three times more likely to be earning $78,000-$103,999 (11.18 per cent compared with 4.49 per cent).

While only 2.9 per cent of women nationally earn $104,000-plus, 6.83 per cent of Canberra women do.

The only dampener on these levels of financial success is the lack of equality. Canberra men continue to out-earn their partners, with 16.39 per cent in the $104,000 bracket, and greater numbers of local men than women in all income brackets above $41,600.

In the area of unpaid work, Canberra women appear just as industrious in the home as they are in the office.

More than a quarter (26.51 per cent) contribute five to 14 hours a week in domestic work, compared with a national average of 21.34 per cent.

Canberra has the lowest number of women declaring they spend nil hours a week on domestic duties (10.32 per cent compared with a national average of 13.82 per cent).

Canberra women, with a figure of 14.37 per cent, come a fraction (0.3 per cent) behind South Australia doing between 15 and 29 hours of unpaid domestic labour. This compares with a national average of 13.59.

Less than half the number of Canberra men than women, or 6.45 per cent, contribute 15 to 29 hours to the household.

Perhaps this goes some way to explain why Canberra's marriage rate is below average?

The crude rate, per 1000 people, is 4.1, compared with a national rate of 5.4. Canberra brides are 28.1 when they tie the knot, which is very close to the 28 average.

But when it comes to the next step - procreating - Canberra women are a lot slower off the mark.

Set against a national backdrop of increasing numbers of women putting off having children, Canberra mothers are making an art form of it. They are aged, on average, 30.9 when they first give birth. That's more than two years older than Tasmanian women and compares with a national average of 30.

Canberra also has the lowest rate of women under the age of 20 giving birth - 2.1 per cent compared with 3.9 per cent nationally. More than a third of Canberra women will be between 30 and 34 when they give birth - 35 per cent compared with a national average of 31.3 per cent.

They make up the largest proportion of women giving birth between 35 and 39 and over 40.

While Canberra's higher than average rates of private health insurance (56.1 per cent compared with 45.3 per cent) and preponderance of busy career women would suggest the ACT might also be the jurisdiction with the most desire for elective caesareans, Canberra women are bucking this national trend and are not, as the cliche suggest, ''too posh to push''.

Caesarean rates are among the lowest in the country at 30.1 per cent compared with a national average of 31.6 per cent and second only to the Northern Territory at 29 per cent.

Canberra women are the least likely to use pain relief when giving birth, with 30.6 per cent going ''drug free'' compared with a national average of 24.4 per cent.

They are more likely to go into spontaneous labour and carry their babies for the longest average gestation of 38.9 weeks.

Of the limited data available on which women access assisted reproductive technology, such as IVF, the ACT has the lowest rate of 2.6 per cent compared with 5 per cent in Tasmania - an intriguing statistic given older average ages at which women attempt to fall pregnant.

Once babies are born, Canberra mothers are more likely to breastfeed than any other. Across all age groups up to 24 months, breastfeeding rates were consistently higher for babies in the ACT, although the Northern Territory had the highest rate of any breastfeeding for infants aged up to four months.

Canberra women are least likely to smoke during pregnancy and have the lowest body mass index when they give birth.

In terms of general health, they tend to lead fairly virtuous lives with the exception of one vice - alcohol. While consumption has been trending down in recent years, 21 per cent of Canberra women over the age of 18 run a lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease or injury - higher than NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

It's not surprising Canberra women are the least sedentary in the country, and they are most likely to consume a high intake of fruit and vegetables - being on par with NSW in having the lowest rates of obesity in the nation.

Lung cancer rates are also among the lowest in the nation while, tragically, breast cancer rates are the highest after Tasmania with 23 Canberra women in every 100,000 dying from the disease compared with 22 nationally. This may partly be explained by lower than recommended breast cancer screening in the ACT and links between alcohol consumption and breast cancer.


Comparatively speaking, Canberra women are fit and well.

This is borne out by their life expectancy. Canberra woman live the longest in the nation - to 84.7 years compared with 80.5 for Canberra men and a national female average of 84. Perhaps they need the extra time to fit it all in.

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