Updated 03 December 2020
Financial independence is a cornerstone of gender equality. Yet a majority of women are letting it slip through their fingers, by not saving enough into their pensions. But why do so many women overlook retirement planning – and what should you be doing about it?
That women earn less on average than men will come as news to no-one. On this basis, we can assume they will also save less for retirement (because they don’t have as much to save). But here’s the surprise: women save less for retirement even compared to men on identical salaries.
That revelation comes from a report by the Fawcett Society and Scottish Widows, Closing the Pension Gap: Understanding Women’s Attitudes to Pension Saving. It’s striking because it undermines one of the positive prejudices about women, which is that they tend to be more prudent planners with a more long-term view than men. The report begs to differ: of women aged 30+ earning over £10,000 a year, only 52 per cent are saving enough for retirement compared to 60 per cent of men, while 25 per cent are saving nothing (compared to only 15 per cent of men).
So why are women neglecting to set aside a retirement income, even when they can apparently afford to? Let’s take a look at some likely reasons – and then some possible solutions.
Why women’s pensions are falling behind
The obvious one. We’re not saying anyone should accept it. But both women and their partners ought to factor this in when making plans together.
Women are much more likely to take time off to have children, resulting in a period when they are earning less and saving less for retirement.
After having children, many women return to work part-time – and a part-time salary means part-time pension saving. A lot of people don’t realise the effect that part-time work will have on their pensions.
Sometimes the best option for a mum (or dad) is to give up work entirely to look after the children full time. Anyone who has tried this can testify that it is a full-time job, especially when kids are young. But unlike all other full-time jobs in the UK, this doesn’t come with an automatic pension of your own.
In the Fawcett Society report, many of the women said they paid for childcare out of their own incomes, rather than sharing the cost with their partners. Similarly, the other everyday costs of raising children are considerable, and may end up coming from the mother’s bank account simply out of habit. Many full-time breadwinners are unaware of the extent of these costs, simply because they aren’t around. Such costs may greatly reduce the amount a woman can save.
Looking after children doesn’t just cost money – it eats up time. Many of the respondents in the report admitted neglecting their finances and ignoring or binning information on pension saving. The daily needs of running a household can make it hard for even the most careful planners to look beyond the next month.
‘My husband deals with that sort of thing’ is a terrible stereotype, but there are signs that it’s all too prevalent. Many women in the report complain that information on saving (e.g. from the government) was ‘too technical’. But this is just an excuse. Anyone can struggle with an unfamiliar concept like pensions, but if you feel in a position to pass the buck then you probably will. In many cases it seems the buck stops with the man, and the woman leaves it to him to sort out.
Unfortunately, the system of pension saving is still designed around men’s working lives rather than women’s. This means there is no built-in system to allow for women’s career breaks and different working patterns.
Right then! What can you do about it?
Now we know the main reasons why women don’t save as much into their pensions. Here are some top-line solutions for bringing women’s retirement savings more into line with men’s.
The current pensions system doesn’t factor in a mother’s career path – but that doesn’t stop you doing it. If you plan to have children, increase your pension contributions in the years leading up to it, to help cushion the effect of possibly lower earnings later on.
Are you dividing your living costs 50:50, when your earnings are 70:30? Even worse, are you doing it at random? Get it all down on paper and make sure you’re paying the same proportion of your income, not the same amount.
Look again at tip 2 above. The full-time earner (probably the man) should actually pay a bit more than his share towards housekeeping, because of the woman’s reduced pension contributions from working part-time. This reduction can be an almost invisible cost – don’t miss it.
It’s harsh, but romance has no place in financial planning. It’s not enough if your partner has a pension that could comfortably keep you both – you need your own. If things turn sour, the last thing you want is to be forced to stay with someone because you need the money. And if you really are going to be together forever, there’s no possible argument for not sharing the money now, rather than later.
Don’t run away from pension planning because it sounds too technical. It really isn’t. Everything you need to know is explained clearly in our pension pages, and if you have any more questions you can ask an adviser for free at our MoneyFlex page.
The most revealing finding of the Fawcett Society report was that most people wanted ‘…help that is specific to their personal circumstances… [such as] face to face advice in a situation where they could ask questions.’ This is a spot-on description of what a financial adviser provides. Indeed, a financial adviser is the only person who will give you truly independent, face-to-face advice that is solely in your best interests.
Find a local financial adviser to discuss your retirement plans – it’s easy with our smart postcode search.
Download our Countdown to Retirement checklist for more ways to prepare for the future.