Mind the gap: Women and super
My husband’s super balance is much larger than mine, but there are ways that women like me can bridge that gap.
By Hannah Tattersall - 3 min read
A little about Hannah
Hannah Tattersall writes about a range of topics, including personal finance, money and business.
A few years ago, my husband and I enlisted the help of a financial adviser to help us reach our goal of renovating our house. Every six months or so we have a check in whereby our income, savings and superannuation are presented on a screen.
It never fails to surprise me how low my superannuation is compared to my husband’s. The difference is vast. I laugh nervously and point this out each time. “I’m older than you,” my husband always says. But the difference in the amount we’ve accrued seems far larger than the six working years between us.
The truth is, there is a huge disparity between men and women when it comes to pay and super.
- Women in Australia earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency1.
- According to the Australian government’s Status of Women Report Card, by the time they approach retirement age, women have 23.1% less superannuation than men2.
Several factors contribute to this. Women more commonly work part-time and gain employment in lower-paid industries. Women overall tend to have lower hourly rates of pay than men do. But when it comes to the stark differences in superannuation retirement balances of men and women, the leading contributing factor is time out of the workforce. Women still tend to take the most time out to be the primary carer of young children.
Taking a few years out of the workforce to raise children sees women fall behind exponentially—according to the 2022 Treasury report, Children and the Gender Earnings Gap , there is a 55% drop in earnings for the mother in the five years following childbirth—which causes a devastating flow-on effect to her super balance.
What can be done?
There are practical ways that women (and indeed anyone looking to boost their super balance) can improve their financial set up for the future.
On top of the 11% superannuation paid by employers, you can generally make pre-tax contributions—through salary sacrifice arrangements or personal deductible contributions— as long as the combined total of employer and pre-tax contributions is no more than $27,500 in the financial year. Salary sacrificing as little as $40 a fortnight can make a huge difference, particularly with compound interest.
|Here's a quick example of how compound interest works. Say you did put away $40 a fortnight for 20 years. After contribution tax is deducted, with returns and impact of compounding, you would have $22,7913 more in your super.|
Check your balance
While we’re on that topic, it’s a good idea to check your employer is actually paying super into your nominated account. Earlier this year, the government kicked off a crackdown on employers paying super quarterly, after more than $3 billion in super was found to be going unpaid each year. It came in the form of a proposal that if legislated will require employers to pay super on payday, starting 1 July 2026.
‘Carry forward’ rules
If you are able to contribute more than $27,500 in a financial year, you may be able to make extra before tax contributions without having to pay extra tax by taking advantage of the carry forward rule . This rule lets you access unused before tax contribution cap amounts from up to five previous financial years, as long as your total super balance is less than $500,000.
For people earning less than $43,445 in the 2023-24 financial year, the government will contribute 50 cents for every $1 they add to super from their own after-tax savings, up to a maximum of $500, in what is known as the government’s superannuation co-contribution.
There’s also a tax offset available as an incentive for a spouse to top up their lower-income partner’s account. To qualify for the full tax offset of $540 in 2023-24, one spouse will need to contribute $3,000 or more into their partner’s super. (The spouse who receives the contribution must be earning $37,000 per year or less.)
For couples with children that separate, family law recognises that the homemaker has sacrificed career development and earning capacity to care for children—this forms the basis on which super and assets can be divided by the court after separation.
Support for women
Women can take proactive steps to improve their own retirement outcomes, including building savings early by making voluntary contributions, and consolidating their accounts to ensure they have only one super account and are only paying one set of fees.
But while these approaches are useful, they place the onus on women to do the work. A recent survey by the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia found that more than 80% of people agree the government should try to boost the super balances of women who take time out of the workforce to have children.
The Gender Superannuation Gap Report , published by KPMG Australia in 2021, identified several ways that government and corporations could give extra support to boost women’s super, such as introducing special super contribution caps and tax rebates for primary carers who contribute to super and providing top-up contributions to primary carers’ super funds.
Advocacy groups such as Women in Super are always fighting for legislative changes that will benefit women. Because if we don’t all play a part, the stats will stay the same.
|How we can help:|
Use GoalTracker® to see how you’re tracking towards your own retirement income goal. This award-winning and easy-to-use program can give you a clearer picture of how much you’ll need to fund your ideal lifestyle in retirement and help you achieve it. Contact GoalTracker® Specialist Michael Jefferies today.
Speak to our advice partner Link Advice about additional super contributions. Learn more about different types of contributions, the potential benefits and important considerations of each (i.e. caps, tax, preservation age, etc); work out which type or combination of contributions is appropriate for you; and receive projections that show the impact of different contributions to your super savings at retirement.
Get a super health check. At no extra cost, Link Advice can work with you to find out what important things you should consider in relation to your super.
1. The ABS data gender pay gap, Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
2. Status of Women Report Card – 2023, 8 March 2023, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
3. Based on ASIC’s MoneySmart superannuation calculator default methodology and assumptions.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the views and opinions of Russell Investments.
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