Startling research shows cost of living pressures hitting Sydney women hard

Lisa Grinham, Head of Sydney Women’s Fund Fri, 22 Mar 2024 Estimated reading times: 5 minutes

Philanthropy Australia co-hosted an event with Sydney Women’s Fund to launch its Portrait V Women of Greater Sydney Research on International Women’s Day 2024. The study is conducted every three years and takes the pulse of women in Sydney, highlighting the issues that matter to them and the challenges they face. Here, Lisa Grinham, Head of Sydney Women’s Fund, shares the findings, which inform the organisation’s programs and advocacy.

Leading Australian social researcher Dr Rebecca Huntley shared her insights from the Portrait research at the event, which was followed by a panel discussion with leaders in philanthropy focused on improving the lives of women in Sydney.

The panel, led by Georgina Byron AM, Chair of Sydney Women’s Fund Advisory Council and CEO Snow Foundation, included Karen Iles, member of Sydney Women’s Fund Advisory Council and Director of Violet Co Legal & Consulting, Angelica Ojinnaka-Psillakis, Global Youth Affairs Leader, and Candice Van Doosselaere, Head of Programs Australia at Judith Neilson Foundation.

The panel discussed the challenging and complex issues faced by Sydney women, shared personal stories from their lived experience, and spoke about how more women are leading in philanthropy and their commitment to investing in Sydney women and girls.

Highlighting an economic divide
The Portrait research was conducted with more than 1,000 participants and paints a vivid and concerning picture of the vulnerability experienced by a significant number of Sydney women, with the biggest concerns including the cost-of-living crisis, housing insecurity, personal safety, climate change, discrimination and the struggle to balance work and domestic life.

An overwhelming 85% of Sydney women who took part in the survey are finding it harder to live a comfortable life than they did 10 years ago, and for the first time since the Portrait research started, more than half of Sydney women surveyed now describe their financial situation as “getting by, struggling or poor”. Alarmingly, 53% are uncertain or do not believe they will have enough to live comfortably when they retire.

85% of Sydney women surveyed are finding it harder to live a comfortable life than they did 10 years ago.

“I think I’m probably one significant life event away from moving into a car … like a job loss or a significant medical event that means I can’t work,” said Peta, 38, one of the study participants.

Unsurprisingly, the cost of housing is another key concern, with six in 10 women saying they are worried about housing affordability. Younger women spoke about home ownership in Sydney as nothing more than a pipe dream, while older women saw themselves leaving decades-long friendships and networks to be closer to children and grandchildren forced out by the housing crisis.

While many of the insights from the previous Portrait studies have been confirmed, there have been some shifts, too. For example, 42% of the women are also now in housing stress, an increase of 6% since 2021.

Being able to pay for groceries is getting significantly harder, with almost 1 in 5 women questioned saying they had worried about feeding their family “frequently” or “very frequently” over the past year.

Almost half of the women surveyed (47%) said they felt overwhelmed by their responsibilities.

The juggling act
The report also highlights the inequity many women face when it comes to their careers. While more than one third of women say they would like to work more, they struggle to balance work with domestic responsibilities and caring for others.

42% of the women who would like to work more say they have had to take an action that has affected their career, such as reducing their work hours or even resigning, in order to care for others.

Almost half (47%) of the women surveyed said they felt overwhelmed by their responsibilities, and didn’t have much time for themselves, as they struggled to balance work, domestic responsibilities and family life.

Concerns for personal safety
Alarmingly, one in two women fear for their personal safety, and 44% say they avoid public transport at night, with women who rent alone feeling particularly vulnerable.

The majority of women (64%) say they need to change their plans in order to feel safe, and never – or try to avoid – walking alone at home.

Sydney is still loved by women
On the bright side, while women in Sydney struggle, they also love where they live and 68% say they feel happy with their personal and family life. More than half (56%) say they are satisfied with their health, and 59% of women are happy with their social life.

The Portrait V study gives great insight into the challenges Sydney women are facing and helps guide the programs and advocacy at Sydney Women’s Fund, helping support women and their families in Greater Sydney and NSW.

The full Portrait V: Women of Greater Sydney Research report is available to read on the Sydney Women’s Fund website.