Accumulating poverty? Women's experiences of inequality over the lifecycle

16 September 2009

An issues paper examining the gender gap in retirement savings.

The aim of the current retirement income system is for individuals to accumulate wealth over their lifecycle to provide for their own financial security in retirement. However, this system does not serve women well, leaving a gender gap in retirement incomes and raising concerns about poverty and financial hardship for women in retirement. The gender gap arises from the linking of the retirement income system, specifically superannuation, to engagement in paid work and level of earnings. This disadvantages women on two levels. First, women commonly move in and out of the paid workforce due to caring responsibilities. Second, even when they are engaged in paid work, women generally earn less than men. This means that not only do women generally have lower levels of superannuation coverage over their lifecycle, but when they do engage in paid work, they accumulate lower amounts of superannuation.

Currently, superannuation balances and payouts for women are approximately half of those of men. Future projections show that the gap will remain a problem for coming generations. The gap has serious implications for women, particularly the likelihood of sole reliance on the Age Pension and subsequently, an acute vulnerability to poverty in retirement.

Instead of accumulating wealth through the retirement income system as intended, due to experiences of inequality over the lifecycle, women are more likely to be accumulating poverty.

This issues paper will examine the problem of the gender gap in retirement savings through the lens of a woman’s lifecycle. Drawing upon relevant research and data from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s consultations, it will explore the cumulative decisions, events and experiences over the lifecycle that have relevance to the gender gap in retirement savings.

 

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