The social welfare of the population does not depend solely on a broad range of financial factors, notably levels of income, occupation and production, but also on the way they are distributed among the people that make up that society. Among the various manifestations of inequality, one of the most important is that which affects the differing degree to which men and women’s needs are met, as can be seen in a number of aspects such as financial and material wellbeing, employment, access to a decent home or education, etc.
1. Financial and material wellbeing
One of the main traits of the inequality between men and women is that women are financially more vulnerable. Even when women’s basic needs are met, situations often arise in which they face hardship and must forego things. The gender divide among people living in financially vulnerable households is particularly serious among those aged over 65. In 2016, the gap or difference between the average pensions of women and men over 65 in Spain was 32.5 points. This divide has narrowed in more recent times, but it remains very wide and hence is a determining factor in the difference between the genders in terms of the financial vulnerability of people aged over 65. These differences are explained to a large extent by the significant employment and wage gap between men and women and the long-term impact this has through the pensions system.
It is notable that the gap between men and women aged 65 and over living in poor households (below 60% of the average income) is small and yet it is precisely in this age group that we find the widest gender divide between those who live in households that are financially vulnerable (below 75% of the average income). It seems that income from pensions enables both men and, to a lesser extent, women to remain relatively unaffected by economic cycles and not to fall below the poverty threshold. However the amount payable, which is closely connected with men and women’s employment and pay background, is a determining factor in whether they do or do not fall into a situation of financial vulnerability.
Whatever the age bracket considered, these differences between men and women are clearly shown by the indicator on personal financial independence, which is characterised by a wide and persistent gender divide. Having one’s own income improves individual independence, gives freedom and increases one’s negotiating power within the family. It is something most adults seek to achieve. This indicator worsened for the population on average during the period in question, except for in 2017, due to the reduction in the number of people receiving pay from work, but the attention is drawn to the considerable difference between men and women. Women’s lack of independence is twice that of men in each and every year studied and even triple in some years. This gender divide is repeated in every age group and is wider still among older groups.
2. Labour market
One of the population’s main needs in relation to the labour market is that the pay received from employment is sufficient to attain a decent standard of living in the society of reference and, at the same time, it reduces the uncertainty generated by having uncertain income levels. The available data show that the percentage of women on low pay – less than 2/3 of the average pay – is two and almost three times that of men over the period analysed. In particular, in 2014, one in six men had an average monthly salary that was less than 2/3 of the average monthly salary, a situation that one in three women suffered. This difference shrank between 2006 and 2014, the last year for which this information is available, though the percentage of women on low salaries that year was still double that of men, both in terms of pay per hour and monthly salary.
Mention must be made of the fact that these data have not been adjusted. This means that we have not taken into account other characteristics such as age or qualifications which, in addition to gender, might determine workers’ pay. In any event, the results demonstrate the differences that exist between men and women in the labour market in Spain, which are reflected in a persistent difference in employment and unemployment rates in men’s favour, and increased part-time work – often not wanted – and temporary contracts among women. These factors are exacerbated by the pay discrimination, mentioned earlier, that affects women, who are, moreover, segregated into lower paid occupations (Cebrián and Moreno, 2008; Gradín et al., 2010; Bárcena-Martín and Moro-Egido, 2013; Del Río and Alonso-Villar, 2014).
The gender divide in financial welfare and in the labour market is the cause of tremendous instability and financial insecurity that give rise to other shortcomings and disadvantages in other basic welfare aspects. One of these is access to housing, which is particularly difficult for households headed by women. The effort that a family headed by a woman has to make to acquire an ordinary home, presupposing that they allocate all their annual disposable income to this, is always greater than that needed of a family headed by a man. Even though experts advise that no more than 30% of monthly income should be spent on purchasing or renting a home, the data show that housing expenditure absorbs a larger proportion of many families’ disposable income than this: more than a quarter of the Spanish population living in households headed by women suffer from excessive housing costs. This gender divide in excessive housing costs has become more pronounced in recent years.
In addition to being able to access a home, a priority requirement is that it must meet the minimum conditions to be able to live in it in a satisfactory manner. In other words, it must be a decent home. Virtually every home in Spain has basic sanitation installations (bath or shower and toilet), meaning that a fundamental need is essentially fully met. However, a higher percentage of households headed by women live in homes with problems to do with structural failings or poor maintenance than households headed by men, although these differences have also declined during the period studied.
Maintaining and improving the population’s physical and mental health is one of the main challenges that society faces today. Mental health is key to people’s health: mental illnesses are one of the largest components in the overall disease burden and they are also a determining factor in people’s wellbeing. One in ten of the most frequent health problems among the population is a mental health disorder: depression and other mental problems such as chronic anxiety. These mental health problems are twice as prevalent among women as they are in men throughout the entire period analysed. In the year with the most recent information (2017), the age-adjusted percentage of women with mental health problems was 12.3%, whereas it was almost half that for men (6.7%). Mental health problems increase with age among both women and men except in men aged between 65 and 74, who have fewer mental health issues, fewer even than men aged between 45 and 64. In any event, for all age groups, these mental health disorders, particularly depression, are diagnosed far more frequently among women than men.
The incidence of many illnesses and health problems can be reduced by adopting healthier lifestyles. There are numerous scientific studies that demonstrate the positive association between regular moderate physical exercise and a reduced risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases, mental health problems and obesity, among other chronic illnesses. Between 2012 and 2017, the percentage of the population that was sedentary in their free time fell by almost seven percentage points, however sedentary behaviour is more common among women than men, particularly in the youngest (aged 15 to 34) and oldest (aged over 80) age groups.
The welfare of the population is also very closely connected with opportunities to access education, although it should be borne in mind that this access does not guarantee a particular educational level, since a very high percentage of people drop out of school early in Spain, particularly among males. In 2017, 22% of men (aged 18 to 24) dropped out of education early, as opposed to 14% of women.
A second key aspect of the population’s needs in relation to education is the quality of the knowledge and the skills it provides. We attempt to measure whether the knowledge acquired in various phases of people’s training is sufficient for them to contribute to the economic and cultural growth of society. The indicators which show insufficient competency in reading comprehension and maths among pupils aged 15 at secondary school reveal a clear gender divide in both competencies and of an opposite nature. Whereas the results indicate that reading and maths skills improved during the entire period among the general population, the gender divide widened, with worse reading skills among men than women and worse maths skills among women than men.
Situation of single-parent households headed by women
Households headed by women are at a major disadvantage in a number of basic welfare aspects, but this situation is exacerbated if they have dependent minors.
Single-parent households in general suffer from greater shortages and disadvantages. When these households are headed by women, the situation becomes markedly worse. Financial vulnerability and excessive costs in accessing a home are problems that affect more than half of single-parent households headed by women, with percentages twice that of the general population. Equally, the rates of financial poverty risk, material deprivation and consistent poverty affect twice as many people living in single-parent households headed by a woman as they do in the population as a whole and, in any event, they are always much greater than those of single-parent households headed by men.
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