To mark our 90th birthday, The Weekly has conducted a major survey, asking Australian women about work, sex, home life and what really matters to them. The message that came through loud and clear is that we’re clamouring for equality. From Tasmania to Townsville, Cairns to Karratha, we want equal opportunities, a chance to pursue careers without being penalised for having children and, most crucially, equal pay. As one woman said, “We’ve been fighting for centuries; the women of the future shouldn’t have to fight still.” We also learned that Australian women today are having less sex than they were in 1980, but that they’re happier with their sex lives, one in five have had a cosmetic procedure, and we’re still shouldering the lion’s share of household chores.
The 2023 Voice of Australian Women survey canvassed the thoughts and experiences of more than 5000 women aged 18 years and up from all walks of life. It followed on from landmark survey by The Weekly in 1980 when Ita Buttrose received questionnaires from 30,000 households across Australia. In 1980, women were eager for workplace equality, better education for women and better childcare. The survey was repeated in 2007, too.
In 2023 we also heard that women want an end to violence. The survey laid bare an unacceptable rate of coercive control, as well as physical, sexual and financial abuse. We learned a lot about the views and interests of women, and how priorities have changed since our first survey more than 40 years ago. When we consider the answers we’ve heard over the decades, there’s cause to cheer about our progress. But it’s also clear there’s still more work to do.
Let’s talk about sex
One of the most surprising things to come out of the Voice of Australian Women survey is that people have been having less sex since our first survey. In 1980, 57 per cent of couples were having sex at least once a week and 3 per cent were doing it daily. In 2023, just over a third (36 per cent) of couples are having sex weekly, and only 2 per cent daily. Today, sex is a rare occurrence for one in five women (21 per cent), up dramatically from 9 per cent in 1980. Ten per cent of Australian women answered yes to the question: “Has your sexual orientation changed in your lifetime?” Fifteen per cent of women said they’d had a same-sex sexual experience. Thirty per cent of women have started a relationship with someone they met online, a long way up from 7 per cent in 2007. Eighteen per cent of Australian women always reach orgasm during sex, up from 13 per cent in 1980.
Women at home
Australian women are still shouldering the lion’s share of domestic tasks, according to the Voice of Australian Women survey. Twenty-one per cent of women do all of the cleaning in their homes. Twenty-five per cent of women do all the cooking. The WGEA estimates the monetary value of unpaid care work in Australia is $640.1 billion, the equivalent of half of the gross domestic product (GDP). “The reality is women are working more hours than men – it’s just that more of it is unpaid,” Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) CEO Mary Wooldridge says.
Relationships Australia CEO Elisabeth Shaw believes that this uneven distribution of labour in the home is having a negative impact on our relationships. “There’s definitely a relationship between inequity in domestic labour and poor sexual outcomes,” she says. Conversely, men who take on caring roles for young children enjoy a more equal partnership over the long term.
Health and wellbeing
Anxiety is rife among Australian women. More than half the women we surveyed (57 per cent) have experienced a “psychological condition”, with incidences highest (69 per cent) among young women, aged 18-24. Anxiety was the most prevalent condition (experienced by 78 per cent of women), with depression ranking second (at 65 per cent).
Psychiatrist Jayashri Kulkarni founded and directs HER Centre Australia, which focuses on women’s mental health issues. She says women experience depression at twice the rate of men, anxiety at four times the rate, and that women are still reeling from the effects of COVID. “The impacts on mental health were particularly pronounced in women and we’re still trying to catch up,” Professor Kulkarni explains. In part, that was because social networks are such an “important part of the female existence, and with lockdowns that was all lost.” Women also shouldered an extra workload, taking the lead on homeschooling and additional domestic labour.
Another big finding that came out in the survey was that women want more information about menopause and perimenopause. The overwhelming majority of women – a whopping 94 per cent – said there needed to be more perimenopause education for women.