Less than super: Women's retiring with less than men


Published on

It's International Women's Day on March 8 and this year we're turning the spotlight onto how women have fared in the superannuation equality stakes.

Women make up half the country yet, alarmingly, own only $4 of every $10 held in super. And age doesn't seem to be a factor - women make up 50% of millennials yet own just 42% of all millennial super; and women make up 53% of retirees yet own just 44% of all retiree super.

It doesn't mean women are denied a right to share in this wealth, it's just that as a group they face more obstacles than men to get that share. But slowly this is changing.

women have less money in super

Women own $1.2 trillion in super, dominating some of the biggest and best-value funds. According to the super regulator APRA, the most popular fund is Rest. More than 1.1 million of its 1.8 million members are female and they account for almost two-thirds of the retail employees it serves.

Rest is also the most popular fund for young women, with 660,000 as members. This makes it almost twice as popular among women as the number two favourite, HostPlus, with AustralianSuper, Sunsuper and HESTA not far behind.

Other funds, however, have a bigger share of female members: 85% for Guild Super, 79% for HESTA, 77% for Mercy Super, 75% for Victorian Independent Schools Super, 74% for Australian Catholic Super  and 71% for NGS Super.

These are the funds that support the industries women dominate: retail, health and education.

Aware Super is the most popular fund for retired women, followed closely by Colonial First State, AustralianSuper, HESTA and the AMP-owned North Superannuation platform. But a fund isn't necessarily the best choice for women simply because it has a high number of female members or because it offers women a temporary fee discount. A super fund is a good choice for a woman simply because it's a good fund.

It should be among the best at delivering the basics: consistently strong investment returns, low fees and fair-value insurance and is easy to deal with.

It's no surprise that Rest's investment returns are in the top 20 over 10 years and that Verve Super over the past year delivered twice the market average.

Women already face their fair share of financial obstacles in life without having to deal with or be exploited by a dud super fund. It's good to see female-dominated funds performing more strongly.

Get stories like this in our newsletters.

Related Stories

Alex Dunnin is director of research at Rainmaker Information, publisher of Money magazine and Financial Standard. He has a Bachelor of Science and a Diploma of Education from the University of Sydney, and a Graduate Diploma in Operations Research and Graduate Certificate in Marketing from Charles Sturt University.
Rod F
March 3, 2021 6.24pm


Thanks for your article. I think some of the figures used in this discussion can be misleading. My wife and I have been married 40 years and are now retired. The imbalance in our super accounts is entirely irrelevant to us as along term married couple. The imbalance results from choices over the years like having children and on the most beneficial salary sacrifice at a particular time. Our finances are totally joint and any imbalance a historical fact only. I suspect that many of the women in the statistics would be in similar partnered situations meaning that the national imbalance, although important, may be overstated.

Alex Dunnin
March 4, 2021 12.47pm

Thanks for your feedback Rod. We agree with you that if couples stick together because they are partners (in the true sense of the word) and want to, then great, the superannuation system as it has been designed is perfect. But not everyone is so lucky. There are millions of Australians whose life journey has taken a different path, sometimes because they chose this path but sometimes they didn't. Like John Lennon said once: "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans". Not every woman, meanwhile, might want her finances to be inextricably linked to that of her partner. Another twist is that the research we published in the article referred to women who had superannuation. If you look across the population at everyone, not just those in the system, the gap widens. While the article didn't address questions on government policy in superannuation, if you did ask me that question, I'd say the superannuation system should reflect the actual society it claims to serve. If society is changing, the superannuation system should change along with it. All the best.

- Alex Dunnin

Liz H
March 14, 2021 2.11pm

love how the man say that it's entirely irrelevant. Ask your wife.

Richard B
March 4, 2021 10.20am

I'd like to also add that things aren't that simple and should not be taken just at face value. I went through an unexpected grey divorce with kids and got 40%, basically kept my own super (not DFB) and the formally "unhappy" ex got 60% which went into a nice house. Her total assets (wealth) have boomed compared to mine - of course she has less super and I have much, much less property in a lesser suburb which no one talks about. I believe that I am not alone and this has become somewhat of a trend in the last decade or so. Sorry " Lies, damn lies and statistics".

Julia Adams
March 17, 2021 8.28pm

I'm 63 and only have $20,000 in super. I want to add a lump sum of $40,000 as the bank interest is so low.

AMP fees are low on my policy but they want to charge me 4% on this lump sum. Is it because I haven't contributed for 15 years? I get so much conflicting advice.

Money magazine
March 18, 2021 9.07am

Hi Julia,

Thank you for your question. While our team can't answer it here in the comments section, we will pass it on to Paul Clitheroe for his consideration for a future Ask Paul.

- Money team

Dale Dale White
March 20, 2021 2.44pm

Women are not always the losers in Superannuation. I've worked full time most of my life but my wife has a slightly higher Super balance to me.

She works as an allied health professional (many if not most of whom are women) and the government system in some states pay more that the 9% superannuation guarantee I receive - along with incentives to 'salary sacrifice' extra into Super ... resulting in a healthy balance.