No Australian should face an insecure retirement because of their
gender. This committee's inquiry has found that many women do.
Men's superannuation balances at retirement are on average twice as
large as women's. In practice this means that women, particularly single women,
are at greater risk of experiencing poverty, housing stress and homelessness in
This is a problem born of many interrelated factors. At its heart,
however, is the fact that women and men experience work very differently. Women
are more likely to work in lower paid roles and lower paid fields, are more
likely to work part-time or casually, and are more likely to take breaks from
paid employment to provide unpaid care for others. Over their lifetimes, as a
consequence, they will earn significantly less than men.
Australia's retirement income system does not adequately accommodate
this difference. It structurally favours higher income earners who work full-time,
without breaks, for the entirety of their working life. The women (and men) who
do not fit this pattern of work face a significant handicap when saving for
This is not a legacy issue. The forces that lead to the differences
between women's and men's patterns of work continue to act on young women
The committee's inquiry has examined policy measures to close the gap
between the economic security of women and men in retirement in the longer
term; as well as measures to assist older women who have already retired, or
are approaching retirement, to ensure they have adequate income to live
There is no simple solution. The causes of gender inequality in
retirement are complex, and a solution is correspondingly complex.
We should redouble our efforts to achieve equality at work—paying women
equally, offering access to career development and leadership opportunities,
and accommodating rather than penalising those who care for others. Government,
business, and individuals have a role to play in achieving women's full
participation in our workplaces.
In retirement, our 'three pillar' retirement system—the age pension,
compulsory superannuation, and voluntary savings—has served us well, and
provides the foundation for the committee's thinking about this inquiry.
Of significance for Australian women, the aged pension continues to be
the principle means by which we take care of those who have provided unpaid
care. Support for this important Australian institution is essential.
Compulsory superannuation has improved retirement for many Australian
women, where previously women were excluded. However, the current
superannuation tax concessions are poorly targeted and serve to reinforce the
gender retirement savings gap. Men, in aggregate, receive double the
superannuation tax concessions as women. Rebalancing the taxation of
superannuation to better support those on low and medium income is critical.
In undertaking its work, the committee has sought to thoroughly
understand and describe the problem before identifying solutions. The committee
recognises that a full transformation will take time, and will be affected by
fiscal constraints. It is hoped that the report provides a long term road map
for a transformation of retirement income policy to benefit women.
These qualifications do not dim the committee's sense of urgency about
the need to commence this transformation. In early 2016, the committee held a
hearing in the auditorium at Melbourne Girls College, and spoke with students
from this school. These girls eagerly anticipate their future contribution to
Australian society. We owe it to these girls, and girls Australia over, to
ensure that their reward at the end of their lives will be a dignified and
secure retirement. If we are to deliver this, we need to start now.
About the inquiry
On 17 August 2015, the Senate referred the matter of economic security
for women in retirement to the Economics References Committee for inquiry and
report by the first sitting day in March 2016.
On 22 February 2016, the Senate granted an extension of time to report to
29 April 2016.
At the time of the referral of the inquiry, the Senate noted that:
...although women's increasing workforce participation has
contributed significantly to Australia's economic productivity and to women's
financial independence, significant socio-economic disparity remains between
men and women, illustrated by the pay gap between men and women which sits at
18.8 per cent and the gap in superannuation at retirement is 46.6 per cent.
Consequently, the terms of reference for the inquiry into the economic
security for women in retirement referred in particular to:
the impact inadequate superannuation savings has on the retirement
outcomes for women,
the extent of the gender retirement income gap and causes of this gap,
and its potential drivers including the gender pay gap and women's caring
- whether there are any structural impediments in the superannuation
system [impacting on the superannuation savings gap],
the adequacy of the main sources of retirement income for women, and
what measures would provide women with access to adequate and secure
retirement incomes; including:
assistance to employers to assist female employees'
- Government assistance, with reference to the success of previous
any possible reforms to current laws relating to superannuation,
social security payments, paid parental leave, discrimination, or any other
The committee received 92 submissions and held five public hearings:
6 October 2015 in Adelaide;
19 November 2015 and 12 February 2016 in Sydney;
18 February 2016 in Richmond, Victoria; and
19 February 2016 in Canberra.
Students from Melbourne Girls' College observing the public
hearing held at their school on 18 February 2016.
For the purposes of this inquiry, the committee resolved to form a
subcommittee comprising Senator McAllister, Senator Edwards, Senator Ketter and
Senator Dastyari. The committee resolved further that Senator McAllister would
be chair and Senator Edwards deputy chair of the subcommittee.
The committee thanks the many organisations and individuals who
participated in the public hearings as well as those that made written
submissions. In particular, the committee would like to thank the women who
told the committee of their personal experiences.
The committee also thanks the Secretary to the committee, Dr Kathleen
Dermody, and committee staff, in particular Ms Penny Bear and Dr Sean Turner.
Their professionalism and enthusiasm has contributed greatly to the committee's
Structure of the Report
The report comprises 11 Chapters, including this one, followed by:
Chapter 3—narrowing the gender pay gap
Chapter 4—women's working experience
Chapter 5—Australia's retirement income system, including valuing
Chapter 7—voluntary superannuation contributions, co-contribution
schemes and employer schemes
Chapter 8—the Age Pension
Chapter 9—housing and economic security in retirement
Chapter 10—financial literacy
Chapter 11—conclusion, achieving dignity and economic security in
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