Inquiry into Ecomomic Security for Women in Retirement

Submission December 2015

COTA sees great value in the Senate Inquiry into Economic Security for Women in Retirement and welcomes the opportunity to make a submission.

We are deeply concerned about the economic security of all older Australians, given that people over the age of 65 experience poor outcomes across a number of key economic and social indicators; for example they make up 30% of the lowest income group in Australia .

In gender terms, a number of older men experience poverty or very strained financial circumstances. We also note that there is currently little known about the economic security of older transgender and intersex people in Australia, but what is understood about the challenges and exclusion faced by this group of people through the life-course does not bode well for their likely economic status in older age. However, it is now well-recognised that women as a group experience deep structural inequality in economic security going into older age. We therefore congratulate the Senate for initiating this Inquiry.

Why women are more economically insecure in retirement
The wheels of retirement income security are set in motion many decades before most people even begin to think about how well they are placed to manage financially in later life. The adequacy of and timely access to retirement incomes is a major issue for everyone. But for most women it is especially fraught.

The key factors that contribute to women's collective position being more precarious than men's in regard to retirement income include:

  • the gender pay gap;
  • broken work (and therefore earning) patterns associated with child bearing, child care and other family caring responsibilities
  • an earnings-linked superannuation contribution system
  • women's greater longevity than men's
  • the greater incidence of single person households amongst older women.

These factors lead to the greater incidence of women as recipients of and reliant upon the modest full Age Pension, reflecting lower incomes and assets than men going into retirement.
It is often the complex interplay between these factors that seals the fate of increasing numbers of older women living in poverty in retirement, on incomes inadequate to meet even basic needs. The increasing incidence of homelessness amongst older women is one consequence of this. (These issues are discussed further below.) However this list of factors is more a description of how women end up less economically secure than men in older age than an explanation of cause.

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