What’s choice got to do with it? Women's lifetime financial disadvantage and the superannuation gender pay gap

Women Families Sex differences Poverty Superannuation Australia

This paper argues that the financial disadvantage Australian women will face in retirement has nothing to do with whether they have a family.


There is much public debate about the role of 'choice' when it comes to women and work in Australia – but structural factors appear to play a stronger role in shaping the labour market experience of women. The persistent gap between male and female remuneration for similar work and the gendered nature of informal care work play an important role in determining labour market outcomes for women. It is hard, if not impossible, to incorporate such factors into conventional notions of choice.

This analysis examines the difference in lifetime earnings and superannuation balances of Australian men and women to highlight the consequences of persistent gender inequality. Despite more women participating in the paid workforce than ever before, on average, women have little more than half the superannuation of men at retirement age – around 59 per cent in this analysis. This figure doesn’t account for the significant proportion of women who have little or no superannuation.

Drawing on hypothetical examples, this paper analyses how the life course and work patterns of four women in different occupations – a nurse, a lawyer, a finance analyst and a retail worker – will impact on their superannuation earnings. It shows that, compared with a male of the same age earning the average wage, the superannuation balance for these four examples ranges between 44 per cent and 87.6 per cent of the benchmark lifetime super balance of the average male. This analysis shows that the current superannuation scheme effectively takes the gendered income inequalities that exist during people's working lives and magnifies them in retirement.

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