Are women really second-class citizens when it comes to their retirement?
Fifty years ago, the sewing machinists at Ford’s Dagenham plant famously walked out in protest at their jobs being classified as unskilled – a story that inspired the film Made in Dagenham. The ultimate result of the action, which began in June 1968, was the passing of the Equal Pay Act 1970 – legislation which prohibited the unequal treatment of male and female employees in terms of both pay and conditions.
Since then, significant gains have been made to create more equitable workplaces and recognise the value of diversity. But while the strike’s anniversary serves as a reminder of how far the UK has come, it should also underscore the disparity that still exists. A disproportionate number of women still start – and remain – in jobs with lower pay. Also, a greater proportion of women continue to take time out of their careers to bring up children or care for ageing parents, only to re-enter the workforce further down the career ladder than their male peers.1
The result is that women end up losing out when it comes to their retirement income. Lower pay and disrupted working patterns mean they typically end up with smaller workplace pensions, and some receive a reduced State Pension due to fewer years of National Insurance contributions.
A recent study by Prudential shows that women retiring this year will have incomes nearly £5,000 per year less than men, or 29% lower2; and one in six will retire with an income below the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s minimum income standard, compared to just one in ten men3. Analysis of government data also shows that women will receive around £29,000 less than men in State Pension payments over the course of a typical retirement.4
It is even claimed that government intervention is indirectly discriminatory against women. Automatic enrolment may have been a huge success, with millions of employees now saving in a workplace pension scheme, but a greater proportion of women are excluded because of the earnings trigger. (You need to earn at least £10,000 a year in any one job to be eligible.)
Societal change is playing a part too. High instances of relationship breakdown are leaving more women fending for themselves, although many are also choosing to remain single.
On the back foot
“Women are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to retirement planning,” says Ian Price, divisional director at St. James’s Place. “They are typically paid less, live longer on average, and are more likely to be single later in life. They are also more likely to spend long periods out of paid work with caring responsibilities.”
Nevertheless, Price argues that there are number of steps women can take to improve their financial outlook. “Firstly, if you’re not already enrolled, you should check with your employer to see if you can join your company's pension plan. Even if you aren’t eligible for automatic enrolment you may have a right to opt in,” says Price.
“Secondly, you should continue making pension contributions during career gaps, if you can afford to. And where possible, making voluntary National Insurance contributions after returning to work could help to minimise the impact on State Pension payments in the future.”
“Thirdly, understand how a balanced and diversified approach to investing can help bring your retirement goals closer to fruition,” he says.
Research shows that women are significantly more risk averse than men when it comes to investing, with less than half seeing it as a calculated risk to grow their money, compared to two thirds of men.5 This may put some women at a disadvantage when it comes to delivering better returns for their long-term savings.
However, Price stresses the key starting point is to make plans and review savings at an early stage. “Engaging in the planning process early can make a huge difference to how your retirement pans out, and consulting a professional financial adviser is a good way to start.”
The value of an investment with St. James's Place will be directly linked to the performance of the funds selected and may fall as well as rise. You may get back less than the amount invested.
The levels and bases of taxation, and reliefs from taxation, can change at any time and are dependent on individual circumstances.
1 www.tuc.org.uk/news/women-earn-%C2%A38400-year-less-men-time-they-hit-50-tuc-reveals, 23 March 2018
2 www.pru.co.uk/pdf/press-centre/co-2018-gender-gap.pdf, May 2018.
3 Joseph Rowntree Foundation, A Minimum Income Standard for the UK in 2017: https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/minimum-income-standard-uk-2017
4 Analysis of government data by Which? April 2018
5 www.alliancetrustsavings.co.uk/investment-news/womens-financial-futures-are-at-risk.html, September 2017