It’s a phase of life all women go through as they age, but the financial costs of menopause have largely gone unnoticed – until now.
According to research from the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST), menopause costs Australian women more than $17 billion per year in lost earnings and superannuation.
The AIST is calling on the government to assess the role menopause plays in the superannuation gender gap.
Menopause usually begins between the ages of 45 and 55. Recent studies indicate that up to a quarter of women will have symptoms that require either long-term absences or force them into early retirement.
This tracks with retirement figures. In Australia, more than 45 per cent of retired women are under the age of 55, compared with only 25 per cent of men at that age.
AIST CEO Eva Scheerlinck says menopause places a heavy burden on women at the peak of their careers.
“This [menopause] leads to experienced middle-aged women leaving the workforce at a time when they are at the peak of their experience and earning potential,” she says.
Currently, the average superannuation payout in Australia is $110,000 for men, but just $37,000 for women.
AIST says that, on average, Australian women retire at 52.1, which is earlier than they’d planned to retire (59) and earlier than men (59.5). Just under 45 per cent of the retiring women cited “own sickness, injury or disability” as the reason for leaving their job.
The AIST says it’s unclear how much of this percentage is related directly to menopausal symptoms, but that the substantial gap between genders is indicative of a “health crisis” in women under 55 driving their retirement.
“What is unclear from this data is what role menopausal symptoms have on a woman’s decision to retire and specific research needs to be undertaken by government to assess this,” AIST says in its submission to the government ahead of the October Budget.
AIST says a woman retiring at the average age of a man would accrue an additional 7.4 years of income and superannuation which, based on average earnings of $70,626.40 a year, amounts to lost salary and wages of more than $522,635 and foregone superannuation of more than $54,880.
Dr Karen Magraith, GP and president of the Australasian Menopause Society, told the ABC the figures were worrying.
“Sometimes, when women are entering menopause they are at the peak of their careers and, if they are impaired by menopause, it sets them back. Sometimes women drop out, or they leave their work completely,” Dr Magraith said.
“And it’s concerning because it really affects women for the rest of their lives. It affects their quality of life, and of course it affects their economic situation as well.”
Has menopause forced you out of work? How has it affected your retirement plans? Let us know in the comments section below.