International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate women and their achievements around the world. It’s also a chance to call out inequalities and focus on what needs to improve.
In this enlightened day and age, it seems ridiculous that there’s still such a thing as a gender pay gap. And yet, on average, men in Ireland were paid 14% more than women in 2021 for equivalent work. As disappointing as this is, unfortunately, the difference is even bigger when it comes to pensions. With pension savings playing such a vital part in providing financial security in retirement, this shortfall is set to present problems for millions of women in later life.
What is the gap?
The exact figure for Ireland’s gender pension gap depends on who you ask… in 2019, Irish Life found women’s pensions to be worth an average 22% less than men’s, while the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) placed it much higher at 35%.
Whichever way you slice it, women have substantially less to spend in retirement than their male counterparts – in some cases, to the tune of €120,000 or more. A longer life expectancy for women – an average of four years more than men – puts even more pressure on their pension pots to last the distance.
We know that inanimate objects like pension products aren’t at fault here, so who or what is to blame?
Why the gap?
We’ve already seen that women are receiving less money on average than men for similar work. When pension contributions are a percentage of salary, this imbalance will trickle down to pension pots too, eventually translating into a lower retirement income.
And the less disposable income you have, the less able you are to put some of it away for the future. If you’re having to stretch your income already, you won’t be hurrying to top up your pension with Additional Voluntary Contributions, even if it’s in your longer-term interests to do just that. Until there’s auto-enrolment in Ireland – where a percentage of salary defaults to a pension and is matched by your employer – there’s no compulsion to put anything away for retirement at all.
Time in employment
Traditional gender roles mean it’s much more likely for women to work part-time and take career breaks through maternity and parental leave. With no obligation for employers to pay maternity leave, this usually puts a stop to pension contributions too. An ESRI study found that 93% per cent of retired men had worked for more than 30 years, compared to just 33% of retired women (22% had never worked at all).
Of course, the longer you actively save, the more you’ll have, especially with compound interest over time. So, where gaps in employment or reduced hours are reflected in pension contributions – even over the short-term – this will have a cumulative effect on the growth of a pension pot.
Confidence about money
Often, inaction comes from fear of getting things wrong. According to Bank of Ireland’s 2021 Financial Wellbeing survey, just 28% of women feel knowledgeable about financial matters vs. 36% of men, and only half felt comfortable managing their money.
It’s still common for older generations of women to be particularly fearful of money and leave financial matters to their husbands. So it comes as little surprise that only 32% of women aged over 55 have a private pension, compared with 58% of men. Women across the board are also much less likely to understand the tax breaks with pensions – at 37% vs. 51% of men.
What can we do about the gap?
With a lot of systemic and policy factors at play here, there’s no easy fix. That said, there are encouraging signs that the gender pay and pension gaps are narrowing for the younger generations.
While the gender pension gap is a genuine problem today, one step in the right direction is encouraging good financial habits for women (at every age) and nurturing the confidence to take control of their money. That’s why good financial planning is arguably even more crucial for women.
At Metis Ireland, we’re all about empowering people to live their best lives through considered, no-nonsense financial planning. We believe that it’s never too early to start planning for a better retirement and there will be steps – both big and small – you can take today to improve your financial future.
While we can’t say we can plug the gender pension gap, what we can do is look at your situation and your goals, then build you a LifePlan that makes sure your pensions, savings and investments are in the best shape possible to get you where you want to be.
Metis Ireland Financial Planning Ltd t/a Metis Ireland is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.
All content provided in these blog posts is intended for information purposes only and should not be interpreted as financial advice. You should always engage the services of a fully qualified financial adviser before entering any financial contract. Metis Ireland Financial Planning Ltd t/a Metis Ireland will not be held responsible for any actions taken as a result of reading these blog posts.