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Three things we need to bridge the super gender gap

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Women face a bleaker old age than men, largely because they have less superannuation when they retire.

A 60- to 64-year-old man has on average $270,701 while a woman has $157,040, according to 2015-16 ABS figures. Men have 72% more superannuation than women.

The gap in superannuation kicks in when women are 28 and keeps growing.

A 40-year-old woman earns an average weekly income of $1000 to $1250 while a man at the same age has double the income at over $2000, according to AustralianSuper's commissioned research by Monash University and coinciding with Anti-Poverty week.

women super

Known as the "double penalty" of taking parental leave and working, women typically reduce their work hours.

Part-time work and career breaks have a detrimental effect on opportunities for promotion and moving jobs and associated salary increases, say the authors of the Monash University report titled, The Future Face of Poverty is Female: The stories behind women's superannuation poverty in retirement.

They found that adverse life events, including divorce, single parenthood and family illness hit women's financial security hard due to the unpaid caring responsibilities they face. The financial consequences of having sacrificed their own employment trajectory in order to support their partner's career do as well.

AustralianSuper makes the point that the current superannuation system benefits those who are able to work full time and continuously before retirement.

Those who have the capacity to work in this manner should, in theory, be able to save enough superannuation for a comfortable retirement but those who do not work to this formula are much more susceptible to poverty in retirement.

The researchers' say that work cultures that are sexist, misogynistic or hostile to women can have significant consequences for superannuation accumulation. They can prohibit progression, forcing women to change occupation, or restart their careers elsewhere, impacting earnings and savings.

AustralianSuper says that when superannuation was first established it was intended to be a universal system, but at the time it didn't accommodate the changing work practices.

There is some light on the horizon with average superannuation account balances across all ages rising for women according to new research from Roy Morgan.

It found that over the last decade the gap reduced by 4.3% with all females having an average of $127,000 compared to men with an average of $176,000. Roy Morgan says the closing gap across all age groups has been helped by the fact that compulsory superannuation has had another decade to impact the market combined with the increased focus on women's superannuation.

How can women be helped to accumulate more superannuation?

Amongst other things, the report reiterates the need for government to:

  • increase the superannuation guarantee from 9.5% to 12% as soon as possible.
  • remove the exemption from paying the superannuation guarantee to employees who earn less than $450 a month.
  • include superannuation contributions on the government's paid parental leave scheme and carer payment.

Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.
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