Briefing paper

Women’s economic security in retirement

4 Mar 2014


Experiences in paid and unpaid work determine economic security in later life. Over the life course, women are more likely to marry someone older, earn less money than men, take primary responsibility for unpaid caregiving and household chores, and have fragmented work histories. This combination of factors can leave women in poor financial circumstances in later life. As a result, Australian women experience higher rates of poverty than men in old age and are more reliant on the age pension as their primary source of income. Being single appears to increase the risk of poverty and it is much more common for women than men to live alone. Poverty rates among pensioners have begun to decline since the age pension was increased in 2009, however they are still higher among people reliant on social security as their primary source of income, of which women comprise the larger proportion.

The ageing population has governments concerned about supporting a large cohort of people who will live to very old age and potentially well past the time when their retirement savings have expired. Because women generally live longer than men, they will comprise the majority of this cohort.6 In response, governments in many developed countries are encouraging people to retire later by making the age pension accessible at increasingly later ages, and setting expectations that individual retirement savings will be necessary to support oneself in retirement.7 For reasons that will be discussed in this paper, these changes present particular difficulties for women, and this paper will review factors that contribute to women’s poor economic security upon retirement in Australia. It will conclude with a number of suggestions on how employers can improve women’s economic security.

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