29 April 2013 Women are disadvantaged in our superannuation system

There was a big argument about superannuation earlier this year. Unfortunately, it was about taxing the ‘fabulously wealthy’ and missed a much bigger issue in superannuation: the disadvantage to women.

Superannuation is predicated on time spent in employment, and the gross income of each member. So while the current median super balance of men aged 35 to 44 is around $41,000, for women of the same age it’s $22,600. For those about to retire – 55 to 64 year olds – men have a median $91,000 compared to women with $55,000.

The problem isn’t so much gender bias as structural inadequacy.

Women have different lives to men. They typically take time out to have kids, they work part-time when they re-enter the workforce, and in order to have flexibility with their family responsibilities, they often work on contract from home or they do informal work for cash. All of these choices take contributions out of their super.

During the week I asked my female Twitter followers what financial issues they had right now and what money concerns they had for the future. And I must thank these women for responding – candour about money takes some guts.

Many female respondents said they couldn’t commit to superannuation strategies when they have kids to raise, bills to pay and a mortgage to service (or a deposit to save for).

This connection between current living pressures and poor savings is why the current superannuation system has a compulsory contribution component (9% of wages currently). But relying on compulsory super doesn’t get you to the desired income replacement rate of 70% by the time you retire. It gets you slightly over half – it’s your voluntary contributions that get you to 70 per cent replacement of your working-life salary.

Clearly, women are not making voluntary contributions.

Another theme I saw in the Tweets was the subject of young divorcees: women who marry in their twenties and divorce in their thirties.

This is a significant life disruption and leaves women the poorer, especially if property is split and they have custody of children.

Perhaps the most chilling element was the admission that superannuation was beyond their understanding, out of their control and not really set up for them.

They have a point. When you look at the superannuation industry, the funds focus on nine-to-five, full-time workers. They don’t really talk to casual, part time and self-employed workers – the cohorts in which women are strongly represented.

I am largely concerned that we are pushing women away from super, especially if the current system is forcing them to turn away, or turn off completely.

What matters most is that half our population is disadvantaged by a supposedly universal system. That’s not something we can ignore.

In the 2030s there’ll be more than five million retirees, and the women can expect to live into their 90s. That’s 30 years of retirement, and they’ll all need an income.

It’s time to bring women into the system.

Reproduced in full with permission: Property Observer Women are disadvantaged in our superannuation system 22 April 2013

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