Australian women, on average, retire with approximately half the retirement savings of men. The most recent statistics from the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia show that in 2011–12 the average superannuation balance for women at retirement was $105,000, while for men it was $197,000. This equates to a gender retirement superannuation gap of 46.6 per cent.
However, a Senate inquiry into improving the finances of retired women is underway. On 17 August 2015, the Senate referred the matter of economic security for women in retirement to the Economics References Committee (ERC).
The Senate noted that despite the increased participation of women in the workforce, there remains a significant socio-economic disparity between men and women, with a pay gap of 18.8 per cent and a superannuation gap of 46.6 per cent. While the ERC acknowledged that the average superannuation balance at retirement is too low for both women and men and should be resolved, women are bearing the brunt of this financial hardship.
A combination of factors all contribute to women having less money to live on in their later years: these include having a higher life expectancy, spending more time in unpaid caring roles, taking time off work during prime working years to produce children, and having a higher likelihood of taking on part-time and casual work. As a result of the gender pay gap, women account for over half (58.3 per cent) those receiving the Age Pension. According to a Australian Human Rights Commission report, Accumulating poverty? Women’s experiences of inequality over the lifecycle, single women are also more likely than men to rely on the full Age Pension for income.
The inquiry has received 89 submissions and finished public hearings on Friday. It is set to report by 29 April 2016. As detailed on the Parliament of Australia website, particular reference will be given to:
- the impact inadequate superannuation savings has on the retirement outcomes for women,
- the extent of the gender retirement income gap and causes of this gap, and its potential drivers including the gender pay gap and women’s caring responsibilities,
- whether there are any structural impediments in the superannuation system [impacting on the superannuation savings gap],
- the adequacy of the main sources of retirement income for women, and
- what measures would provide women with access to adequate and secure retirement incomes; including:
- assistance to employers to assist female employees’ superannuation savings,
- Government assistance, with reference to the success of previous schemes, and
- any possible reforms to current laws relating to superannuation, social security payments, paid parental leave, discrimination, or any other relevant measure.
You can download the full Issues Paper about the inquiry at aph.gov.au.
Over May 2015, the Westpac bank released a report which stated that a woman earning $53,700 per year would need to work until the age of 74 to retire with as much super as the average Australian man.
In the last year it has been encouraging to see an increased focus on the gender pay gap and the superannuation disparity. In July last year the ANZ bank introduced its free financial advice service for women who have less than $50,000 in super. Additionally, some politicians including Greens MP Adam Bandt, have been fighting to push through legislation to allow employers to boost superannuation payments to female employees.
What we really need to see are strong policies to help give women the financial boost they require in order to live comfortably, especially in retirement.
This inquiry into the economic security for women in retirement is a strong indication that politicians and governing bodies are finally willing to work actively to rectify the gender superannuation gap. The inquiry will look at the facts and figures and assess the extent to which the pay gap affects women and their families. Most significantly, the inquiry will analyse any structural impediments in the superannuation system and address how these can be fixed.
This inquiry is sure to be a huge undertaking and it is likely to be some time before any real action can be implemented because they’ll want to turn over every stone first. However, this focus on women’s financial comfort and independence gives us all good reason to hope for better things.
Do you feel the gender pay gap has an effect on your life? Does the Senate inquiry into the economic security for women in retirement give you hope? What policies would you like to see come out it?