Female Prime Ministers, Queen Beyoncé, #MeToo. Women are moving closer to cultural and financial equality, having covered huge ground over the last 200 years — in Australia, a wife’s personal property was owned by her husband as recently as 18821.
But we’re still retiring with scarily less super than men. Despite gargantuan steps taken by the Aussie Government and workforce to close ‘the gender gap’, there was still an average 22.5% difference in super balance between men and women in 2015-20162.
Let that number sink in. Now let’s explore how Australian women can play to our strengths to narrow that gap.
So what exactly is the ‘gender pay gap’?
It’s how the world measures the average difference in earnings between men and women (not to be confused with ‘equal pay’ which compares two people working in similar jobs).
“It’s likely that, over a lifetime, women will earn less than men, be less able to advance their career as far as men, accumulate less in super and therefore be more likely to live in poverty in their old age.”
Australian women won the right to be paid the same as men for equal work in 1969. But some socio-economic influences still can hold us back3:
- conscious/unconscious discrimination
- hiring and pay bias
- lower waged female-dominated industries
- workplace inflexibility
- greater part-time work
- more time out the workforce on mat and carer’s leave
“A lot of the gender gap in super comes down to cultural and societal attitudes toward unpaid work, flexibility in the workplace, and women’s role in work and family.”
Jordan George, SMSF Association Head of Policy
The female elephant in the room
- Average super balance for female 60-64yo retirees was $157.05k – 42.0% lower than men.4
- Women have lower levels of financial literacy than men, on average.5
- Most women leave it to their employer, partner or advisor to make financial decisions for them.6
- Women live five years longer than men, on average.7
- Women receive 1/3 of government super tax concessions, men receive 2/3.7
- 40% of older single retired women live in poverty.7
- 46.9% of the workforce are women.8
- 44% of women rely on their partner’s income as a main source of retirement funds.7
- 8.5% of women between 65 and 74 still have a mortgage.7
- Female grads earn $5k less than male graduates in the same role.7
- Women spend an average of five more hours a day caring for children.7
- Women’s average super balance in 2015-16 was $68,499, men’s was $111,853.
Play to your strengths
Most people don’t realise that it’s actually men who are the emotional investors — statistically reacting more to market changes, and often underperforming compared to women.8 One of the world’s most successful investors even wrote a book: Warren Buffett invests like a girl. And why you should, too. So with our naturally calm temperament for long-term investing, why aren’t more women taking control of their own money? Maybe we just need to give ourselves permission.
“When it comes to super, two heads are often better than one”
Wes Hall, TOMORROW Super founder
If you have a life partner — wife, husband, de facto, same-sex partner — a holistic super strategy could be well worth your while.
Some progressive superannuation funds let you view each other’s super asset allocation within one dashboard, which can be handy if you want to balance out your household’s overall exposure to risk.
And partner contribution splitting has been gaining momentum since the Government capped individual super balances at $1.6m, back in 2017. The strategy is helping Australians to ensure one partner doesn’t fall behind on super if they take a break from work to care for the kids — and helping wealthier households squeeze more low-tax into super.
Seven quick wins
- Start a conversation with your life partner about super-in-lieu during mat or carer’s leave.
- Find any lost super you might have floating around.
- If you consolidate your super, you could save on fees.
- Choose a super portfolio you actually like: does your fund specialise, offer direct asset ownership, and equality features like couple discounts and a household view of your combined superannuation assets?
- Review any insurance you have through your super. Too much could seriously erode your retirement savings, not enough and you and your family won’t have enough if you become disabled or pass away.
- Consider any tax breaks, like salary sacrificing, low-income super tax offset and spouse contributions.
- Align to your risk tolerance — if you have 20+ years ’till retirement, it’s easier to ride out market fluctuations and take more risk. Also, consider your household’s risk tolerance. For example, one strategy might be taking on more growth assets (shares and property) in the lower balance account, and more defensive assets in the higher balance account. That way, life partners can still enjoy the relative safety of defensive assets, but over time, the smaller account should grow at a faster rate to help minimise the imbalance between accounts
The good news is, whether you have four or forty years until you retire, it’s never too late. So if you have a financial hunch, look into it. If you’re good at getting things done, focus on your money for a while — just long enough to narrow that gender super gap.
- A History of Married Women’s Real Property Rights. http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/AUJlGendLaw/2009/6.pdf
- Ross Clare, The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, Superannuation account balances by age and gender, October 2017, pg. 5.
- Workplace Gender Equality Agency, The gender pay gap. https://www.wgea.gov.au/topics/the-gender-pay-gap
- Ross Clare, The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, Superannuation account balances by age and gender, October 2017, pg.4.
- The Conversation, HILDA Survey reveals striking gender and age divide in financial literacy, 31 July 2018. https://theconversation.com/hilda-survey-reveals-striking-gender-and-age-divide-in-financial-literacy-test-yourself-with-this-quiz-100451
- CHOICE and Financial Literacy Australia, Project Superpower: Informing a strategy to engage people with their superannuation, Qualitative Research Report,
Women in Super, The facts about women and super, https://www.womeninsuper.com.au/content/the-facts-about-women-and-super/gjumzs
- Forbes article by LouAnn Loften. https://www.forbes.com/2011/06/21/warren-buffett-invests-like-a-girl-book-excerpt.html#357de4bf3677