Superannuation for women

Women face special challenges when it comes building a strong super account.
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01 .Savings disparity


When it comes to retirement savings, men still rule the roost. And when it comes to nest eggs, despite the advances in equitable pay, women face a number of hurdles if they want to grow their superannuation independently. 

According to ASIC, Australian women about to leave the workforce in 2007 had, on average, $35,300 less super than men. One reason is that men continue to work longer hours than women, who spend more time out of the workforce, or work reduced hours, because they’re more likely than men to spend time caring for children. 

An Australian government report on workforce participation released in April 2012 shows 46.1% of men work full-time compared to only 25% of women. The disruptions caused to women’s careers, and the fact that many re-enter the workforce in a parttime capacity only, means they generally earn less in the long run and therefore less super.

Take a look at some of our tips for taking control of your superannuation. For more information about superannuation, see Investing.

Dangers of dependence

Many women wait until they’re older to seek financial advice, by which time the path to financial security has become more difficult.
- Chris Kirby, AMP

This discrepancy needn’t be all bad, says Sarah Riegelhuth, co-founder and director of private wealth management firm Wealth Enhancers. She believes women who generate super independently and follow prudent financial advice can set aside enough to retire on. 

The same goes for women in stable relationships, where both they and their partner are capable of accruing sufficient wealth over a lifetime. However, problems arise in the event of a relationship breakdown. “If there are children involved, and the woman looking after them is incapable of going back to work for some time, she’s going to have problems with her superannuation,” Riegelhuth says.

Women who shun financial advice until later in life and rely on their partner for their financial security are vulnerable to financial risks. An AMP poll of financial planners conducted in 2011 revealed almost half believe the primary barrier to women seeking financial advice is the emphasis placed on their partner or spouse’s finances. 

“In some cases, women take care of the day-to-day financial management of their household but aren’t involved in making major financial decisions with their partner,” says Chris Kirby, technical manager at AMP. “Many women wait until they’re older to seek financial advice, by which time the path to financial security has become more difficult.”

It’s a point that’s also been made by Delia Rickard, a former ASIC consumer protection expert who is now the deputy chair of the ACCC

“Women are great with doing the family budget and making money stretch to meet their kids’ needs,” she says, “but they’re not good at thinking about their long-term financial security.” 

Rickard says accumulating enough super to last through retirement is essential for women, especially given their longer life expectancy. “It’s really important that we [women] start to think early on about saving for our retirement and doing some of that long-term planning ourselves.” 

Rickard recommends women set aside enough money to cover basics, ensure there are funds available in case of an emergency, and make sure insurance is in place where needed. If the opportunity is there, she suggests making voluntary contributions towards super.

Targeted advice

Women have much to gain by planning for their future, says Susan Jackson of the Women’s Financial Network. “There’s an enormous amount of evidence to show there will be the biggest transference of wealth to women in the next 20 years because they’re independently wealthy, living longer so inheriting wealth, and there isn’t the same salary imbalance.” Jackson believes the financial services sector has to change its ways if women are to reach their potential. 

“There needs to be more financial commentators creating what I call a more modern dialogue,” she says. “It’s not about offering women different financial products; it’s about changing the way the financial services industry speaks to them.” 

Part of the problem is that the financial services industry has traditionally been dominated by men. Jackson thinks women will better understand how to manage their finances once the industry learns a few pointers about how to address their needs. Finding a financial adviser who understands the challenges women face is one important step towards gaining financial independence. 

Finding out what support mechanisms are in place can also help. Initiatives such as spousal contributions and government co-contributions can help women bridge the super gap. 

Riegelhuth offers this simple advice that applies equally to both men and women: “The earlier you can start planning your future, the better off you’ll be. If you can sacrifice a little bit of your salary to superannuation from a young age, you’ll find a little bit equals a lot over a long period.”


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  • Take advantage of the Spouse Contribution scheme. It offers a tax offset on contributions made by a working spouse to their non-working or low-income-earning partner. 
  • Read up on family assistance benefits. If you’re a primary carer who earned less than $150,000 in taxable income in the previous financial year, you could be eligible for paid parental leave. Alternatively, you could be eligible for the baby bonus if your family income in the six months after you have your child is less than $75,000. 
  • Investigate the Super Co-contribution scheme. It’s a government initiative designed to assist low- and middle-income earners boost their savings. The scheme offers to match any personal super contributions at 50c on the dollar up to $500. 
  • Consolidate your super funds. If you’ve changed jobs a few times, chances are you’ve had several super funds. Take the time to find lost superannuation and consolidate it into one manageable plan so you don’t pay multiple management fees. 
  • Salary sacrifice. Asking your employer to pay part of your pre-tax salary into your superannuation fund can be an effective way to increase super balances. 
  • Consider life insurance and income protection insurance – the earlier in life the better. Both can be difficult and expensive to acquire if you develop a serious illness. 
  • Seek legal advice in the event of a marriage breakdown. Changes to the law mean super entitlements may now be shared between you and an ex-spouse. Get the lowdown from a family law practitioner.
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