FactCheck: do same-sex couples earn 29% more?

“Same sex couples earn 29% more money than male-female couples. Mum and Dad taxpayers are the most oppressed Australians in our economy. Christian Democrats will change that.” – Fred Nile - Official Christian Democratic Party Facebook page, July 2013.

The above comment was published on the Facebook page of the Christian Democratic Party (CDP) late last month and has sparked some outrage across social media networks.

When contacted by Election FactCheck the Christian Democratic Party said the source for the claim was 2011 census data. A recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) article on the characteristics of same-sex couples in Australia published on the 25th of July – the same day the infographic appeared on the [CDP’s twitter feed](https://twitter.com/frednile/status/360590949329559552 – sheds some further light on the source of the claim.

To say that same-sex couples earn a certain percentage more income than opposite-sex couples, we would need to know the average income each kind of couple earns. For example, if we knew that same-sex couples have an annual household income of \$129,000, and opposite-sex couples earned on average \$100,000 a year, then we could say that same-sex couples earn 29% more (or 25% more using the mid-point method to calculate percentage difference).

However, neither the ABS article nor any other recent ABS publication based on census data compares the income of same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples in terms of average income in dollar amounts. Although when contacted, the ABS did mention that an extra paid consultancy service could be provided that may have enabled a comparison.

But on the publicly available information, we find comparisons based only on the distribution of individuals and couples across different income brackets. For example:

“Around two thirds (67%) of male same-sex couples had a combined income of \$2,000 or more per week, along with 58% of female same-sex couples and 42% of opposite-sex couples.” (ABS Social Trends July 2013)

As income is provided in income brackets, it is impossible to calculate whether same-sex couples earn the stated 29% more than opposite-sex couples.

Do same-sex couples earn more money than male-female couples?

But it is true that same-sex couples earn more money than male-female couples. Nearly a quarter (24%) of opposite-sex couples have an annual family income of less than \$52,000, compared to just 11% of same-sex couples.

The explanation behind the income difference is simple. In same-sex couples it is more common that both partners are working, and working for longer hours. In 45% of same-sex couples, both partners were working full-time, compared with just 22% among opposite-sex couples.

Same-sex couples are more likely to be working full-time because they are younger, and are less likely to have children living with them. Just over 75% of people in same-sex couples are aged under 50, compared to 54% of those in opposite-sex couples. Similarly, only 12% of same-sex couples have a child living with them, compared to 54% of opposite-sex couples.

Same-sex couples also tend to have higher incomes because they have higher education levels and are more likely to be working in managerial and professional occupations.

Are ‘mum and dad taxpayers’ hard done by?

It’s hard to know for sure what the statement, “Mum and Dad taxpayers are the most oppressed Australians in our economy”, is specifically referring to. However, in this context it appears to be in reference to opposite-sex couples who are earning less than same-sex couples.

It is important to keep in mind that same-sex couples make up only 1% of all couple families reported in the census. Further, only around half of opposite-sex couples are parents with children living at home. If we focus on the 54% that do have children in the family, “mum and dad taxpayers” actually fare much better in terms of disposable household income (after taxes) than many other types of households.

Disposable income is often presented in five quintiles, from the lowest 20% to the highest 20% and adjusted for the number of people and dependents in the household. Around 15% of couple families with dependent children (99.8% of which are opposite-sex couples according to the census), can be found in the lowest quintile of household disposable income. This can be compared to 34% of lone parent families who fall into the poorest 20%, and 64% of lone person households where the individual is aged 65+.

Looking at the percentage of families from the census that have an adjusted disposable weekly income of less than \$600 a week, there is little difference between same-sex couples with children (9%) and opposite-sex couples with children (7%). However among single parents, nearly 30% have an adjusted disposable weekly income of less than \$600 a week.

Verdict

The claim that same-sex couples earn 29% more money than opposite-sex couples is unsubstantiated. However, it is true that same-sex couples earn more money than opposite-sex couples. This is because on average, same-sex couples are younger, have fewer children,and are more likely to have a higher level of education; all factors that are associated with a higher likelihood of working full-time and in higher paid jobs.

It is hard to see how mums and dads are the most oppressed in our economy. Figures from the ABS on disposable income clearly show that other groups, including single parents and pensioners, are much more likely to fall into the lowest income category.

Review

Based on the available census data, I agree that the claim that same-sex couples earn 29% more money than opposite-sex couples is unsubstantiated. However, as this articles states, it is clear that same-sex couples do on average have higher incomes. The explanation for the income difference is not simple. But differences in family structure, educational attainment, labour force participation and occupations of employment are important factors.

The statement that “Mum and Dad taxpayers are the most oppressed Australians in our economy” is ambiguous. Nonetheless, since — as the FactCheck correctly argues — families with dependent children are not in general an economically disadvantaged group, the proposition must be regarded as false.

The Conversation is fact checking political statements in the lead-up to this year’s federal election. Statements are checked by an academic with expertise in the area. A second academic expert reviews an anonymous copy of the article.Request a check at checkit@theconversation.edu.au. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

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