The legislated increase of the super guarantee rate to 12 per cent is the most important element to tackling the gender retirement gap, according to the chief of Aware Super.
Around 25 per cent of Aware Super’s funds under management is sitting in retirement, while two-thirds of the fund’s 1.1 million members are female.
Data analysis from the fund has shown women are retiring with around 57 per cent of what their male counterparts have accumulated in super savings.
Around one-third of the gap was found to be due to career breaks, where women take time off for maternity leave or to care for others, while a further two-thirds is accounted for through wage differences, where women can work in more part-time roles, the different types of jobs they have as well as the gender pay gap.
Deanne Stewart, chief executive of Aware Super (formerly First State Super) reflected on what could reduce the retirement gender gap, while speaking on a Household Capital retirement income panel.
The hotly contested increase to the super guarantee, or the rate of an employee’s salary employers are obligated to pay, from its current 9.5 per cent to 12 per cent was her primary answer.
“Number one, without a shadow of a doubt, moving the SG to 12 per cent has the biggest impact, so let’s start there,” Ms Stewart said.
“But beyond that, there’s several other things that we would certainly recommend. One is actually to consider joint super accounts.”
The fund CEO pointed to how many households would have couples, with both partners working.
“The ability to contribute into the super fund if someone is taking time out, or taking career leave, but also later in life, if there is a separation in the family, that actually really assists in having a much more equal super balance,” she said.
Aware Super has also recommended removing or reducing the $450 monthly earnings threshold for employers to make super contributions. Ms Stewart noted many people could be excluded from the system if they have part-time work or multiple jobs.
Around one in three women is estimated to make it to retirement without super.
Reflecting on the gender divide, Ms Stewart noted: “I would also say is underneath that data, is not just about women but probably two other areas that we see, clearly those with very low income and then secondly, those that are more casualised or part-time in the gig economy.
“That’s where the super system is not working as perfectly as we’d like it to work,” she said.
But it is a young system and there are two more decades to go before retiring members have had mandated super contributions through their entire working lives, Ms Stewart noted.
Assistant minister for superannuation and financial services Jane Hume was also on the panel and while she did not touch on the rise to the super guarantee, she agreed the joint superannuation account could be a good idea, as well as paid contributions during parental leave.
But she said the question lay in whether the repairs should be made to the superannuation system or if people’s working lives should be adjusted.
“It’s actually a design fault, because super will always be reflective of your working life and if women have a different working life to men, they will have a different superannuation balance,” Ms Hume said.
Further, she commented the $450 threshold might not be a perfect solution.
“There are some equity issues with superannuation as well and I know they are worth considering,” the minister said.
“I know that the $450 issue has come up over and over again. That, I don’t think is an issue of adequacy, even if you solve the $450 problem, you wouldn’t create adequate retirement income.”
Sarah Simpkins is a journalist at Momentum Media, reporting primarily on banking, financial services and wealth.
Prior to joining the team in 2018, Sarah worked in trade media and produced stories for a current affairs program on community radio.
You can contact her on [email protected].