Retirement Income

The shocking truth about gender inequality in retirement - and how to fix it

The shocking truth about gender inequality in retirement - and how to fix it

On average, women retire with half the super of men.

According to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, women finish their careers with a meagre average of $230,907, compared to the $454, 211 of their male counterparts. When a woman’s ability to service debt and pay expenses is impaired, the outcomes are worse. Between 2011 and 2017 there was a 52 per cent increase in older women contacting homeless agencies, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The reasons for this are no surprise. On average women earn less so contribute less to super. Women also take on less demanding careers to be more available to the family.

And then there’s the career breaks. Women take time from work, often years, to care for children and the home and now parents and parents-in-law (the sandwich generation). Many return to work part-time. The impact of career breaks ripple throughout a woman’s life.

Low financial literacy also contributes to gender inequality in retirement. An ASIC survey found 85 per cent of female respondents didn’t understand fundamental investment concepts. In my experience, when educated about financial concepts women make wise investment decisions. Sadly women don’t always seek out that knowledge. I’ve sat in many consultations where women started out disengaged, tuning out but after some drawings and discussion, become focused and confident. 

According to the NAB Financial Anxiety Index, women are much more anxious about finances than men. Given the circumstances it’s not surprising. But there are strategies to use, at various stages of life, to maximise financial security. Many of these involve being tactical with superannuation.

Here some strategies worth looking into:

  1. Maintain your extra super payments when the markets are low. Fear about turmoil in the financial markets leads many to withhold investments. But maintaining - or increasing - your voluntary super payments will earn you more in the long term. When the market comes out the other side of the crisis, you’ll hold more super at the higher value.

  2. Co-contribute to super. Regardless of the financial markets, co-contributing to super is a tax efficient investment. It is especially relevant if you are a single woman and can’t take advantage of having two incomes for one household. You just need to meet the criteria.

  3. Investigate superannuation splitting or spouse contributions. If a husband has a lot of super and the wife doesn’t it is possible to move some of his super to hers. I had clients in this situation and moving his super over made him eligible for the aged pension. With a spouse contribution he can reduce tax and build her super at the same time.

  4. Make carry-forward contributions into super. This is when you pay above the regular super contribution cap to make up for periods where you missed the cap. For example, say I stopped working to care for children for two years and didn’t pay anything into my super. Then I came into some money by working again, selling an asset or receiving an inheritance. I can pay my “extra” money into my super to make up for those lost years.

    I had a client who divorced and had to sell a property post-settlement. During the marriage she worked part-time and cared for children. We were able to pay $50,000 from the sale of the property into her super as a carry-forward payment. This way she avoided a significant capital gains tax bill.

  5. Diversify investments. As a general rule I always encourage investment diversity. Women are naturally more risk averse than men. Spreading money across hundreds, or thousands, of investments decreases risk. Knowing about investing in shares versus managed funds is key to this strategy.

There are concrete, seemingly insurmountable, reasons for gender inequality in retirement. The way to tackle these is with solid strategies. The earlier these start the better. Unfortunately, many women find out the reality of their situation too late. Whether single or not, becoming educated and involved in your financial plan is a step towards security.

Helen Baker is a licenced Australian financial adviser and author of two books:  One Your Own Two Feet – Steady Steps to Women’s Financial Independence and On Your Own Two Feet Divorce – Your Survive and Thrive Financial GuideProceeds from the books’ sales are donated to charities supporting disadvantaged women.  Helen is among the 1% of financial planners who holds a master’s degree in the field. Find out more at www.onyourowntwofeet.com.au

Note this is general advice only and you should seek advice specific to your circumstances.