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The Strange Case of the Vanishing Women

Letter From Elsewhere with Anne Else
The Strange Case of the Vanishing Women

“What do women want?” Freud famously asked. Well, for starters, we would like to be seen to exist.

Yes, I know that last month I was complaining about women, or rather bits of women’s bodies, being plastered all over the adverts. But it seems we’re much easier to find there than in official reports.

Last week the Retirement Commission and Statistics New Zealand launched a major new survey on the net worth of New Zealanders. The Retirement Commission’s website,, says that people will be able to use the survey information to, among other things, “Analyse the effect of existing policy in such areas as superannuation, taxation, Maori, women, and income maintenance”.

I didn’t realise that Maori and women were “areas”, exactly, but we’ll let that pass.

The staggering thing is that while the report does give some information about net worth and ethnicity, it says absolutely nothing about women, or men for that matter. There’s no analysis by gender at all.

“Does this matter?” I hear you cry. Yes, I’m afraid it does.

We no longer live in a world where we can blithely assume that almost everyone will live for most of their adult life in a tidy heterosexual couple, and that after one dies, the other will be able to count on their accumulated assets to back up the pension.

More and more women are having to rely on their own incomes to support themselves and their children, if any, for lengthy stretches of their “working years”. When they stop earning (but not working), they may well have no home of their own, few other assets, and only one pension. And of course, they live longer than men. Roughly two out of every three people aged 85 and over are female.

So whoever decided to leave gender out of this survey was not the sharpest tool in the shed. It’s not the only time this has happened recently. Have a trawl through the latest crop of reports and Briefings to Incoming Ministers, and you’ll find more evidence for the Strange Case of the Vanishing Women.

What’s more, the men have vanished too! All you have to do is put one lot back, and the other magically appears.

There’s some fascinating information in this survey, all the same. It shows, for example, that the top 10 percent of New Zealand households hold 53 percent of the net worth, and the second 10 percent hold 20 percent. The bottom 30 percent of households hold no positive net worth at all. Zilch. Zero. Stuff all.

Even Don Brash has noticed this disturbing fact (at least, he did after a CTU press release drew it to his attention). He has a simple solution: faster economic growth.

In his maiden speech, he pointed out that by 2000, Australia’s GDP per capita was about one-third greater than New Zealand’s in 2000. He took this to mean that “on average every man, woman and child in Australia was better off to the tune of some $250 per week than the average New Zealander”.

So all we have to do is grow that GDP and those 30 percent of households will see their net worth burgeon! Sounds good, huh?

Sadly, it isn’t so. Trickle down is a con. What’s more, and what’s worse – as the net worth survey might have revealed, had it troubled to include gender – households headed by women, and containing children, are a great deal more likely to be in that bottom 30 percent than in the top 20 percent. Their poverty threatens all our futures.


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