Australia: Women worry more than men about outliving savings in retirement

| 28 Jan 2020

Women in Australia worry more than men about retirement, the latest National Seniors Social Survey has found. An in-depth analysis found that the degree of worry about retirement income was 47% higher in women than in men.

While a majority of men reported not being worried, women were more likely to report that they “worry frequently” than men.

The survey report says that there are a number of reasons why women might worry about outliving their savings more than men overall. Based on data from the survey, the reasons include:

Longer life expectancy of women

Australian Life Tables indicate that, at age 65, on average, men will live another 19.7 years to an age of 84.7 years and women, another 22.3 years, to age 87.3 years. So women, on average, live three years longer than men after retirement ages, but the superannuation system does not cater for gender differences in longevity. The basic age pension and defined benefit schemes provide continuous indexed income for life, but superannuation funds do not.

Gender inequality in lifetime earnings and savings potential

That women worry more than men in retirement is unsurprising given historical disparities in earnings and working patterns disadvantage women and their potential to accumulate wealth over their lifetimes.

Women, who are more likely to have retirement savings values less than A$500,000 ($343,000)—69% of women compared to 53% of men—will tend to be worried about outliving their savings. Women were also more likely than men to be relying on the age pension as their main source of income in retirement—35% of women compared to 25% of men—a further justification for worry. Lastly, women were much more likely than men to indicate ‘rather not say’ and ‘don’t know’.

Gender role expectations, particularly related to caring

Women have disproportionately filled carer roles in society: either as mothers and grandmothers caring for small children, or as carers for elderly parents and grandparents and partners in older age. This has resulted in a double burden for women in terms of saving for retirement, where unpaid labour has limited or prevented wealth accumulation. This inequality persists in the retirement years, indicated by the relatively high employment growth for older women who are unable to retire on their current savings. Conversely, they might be unable to continue working and save adequately, due to the caring requirements of those around them.

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Partnered women may also have reasonable expectations of outliving their spouses and/or depleting their savings through financing their partner’s care before they come to need aged care services themselves.

Age and marital status of the survey sample

The underlying demographic structure of the participant sample for the 2019 National Seniors Social Survey indicates why worrying about outliving savings might be associated with gender. The participants most represented in the sample were partnered men, followed by unpartnered women, then partnered women, then unpartnered men.

The survey also found that worry about outliving savings does seem to decrease with increasing age, for both women and men. People do ‘cut their coat to fit the cloth’ and adjust to restricted funds.

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In terms of partner status, in retirement, a higher proportion of men are married, either in the traditional sense or as a de facto couple. In the survey, 79% of men were married, but only 46% of women. Part of the gap is the number of widows who have not remarried. It is telling that 23% of females reported widowed as their marital status, compared to only 7% of males. Ages at marriage and different life expectancies play some part in this difference. More women also chose “divorced/separated” for their marital status, 17% compared to 6% for men.

Married retirees were less likely to worry than either divorced or widowed retirees of either gender. This could be related to a more positive frame of mind for married couples and the security of joint assets, but married women were still more likely to worry (58%) than married men (46%).


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