Think you’re working your butt off now, paying bills and making sacrifices to secure a comfortable future? You need to wake up! ATO data has revealed that 40 per cent of older, single women will live below the poverty line.
No more movies, the odd dinner out, the occasional beauty treatment. You will be struggling to eat three times a day. And don’t even think about leaving your husband… you can’t afford to.
Women, when they retire, have about half as much superannuation as men. It is astonishing that to date, few practical solutions have been implemented to resolve this. Why? Perhaps it’s because it is men who decide about your taxes, superannuation and how the employment landscape is designed.
There has never been an Australian female treasurer. Of twelve assistant treasurers, only two have been female. Similarly, there have been only two female finance ministers. Decisions about tax and super are made from a male perspective.
The Senate Standing Committee on Economics is due to report on the gender retirement income gap by 29 April 2016. Women on lower taxable incomes suffer the most. Data from the ATO shows that there are almost 40 per cent more females than males in the bottom two tax brackets.
The ability to accumulate super depends on two things: Early career contributions to benefit from the magic of compounding interest, and income level. Women lose out on both these fronts. Acknowledging this issue is a start. That it has been allowed to fester and the gaps widen over so many years is an indictment on the system.
Yet women are not getting paid less than men for doing the same work. The stats reveal that women in general, begin working more or less, on an equal footing with men.
But something significant changes down the track: biology. Women, if they want children, must take time out from their careers. While granting parental leave is mandatory in Australia, a woman’s career prospects when she returns to work are often on a different trajectory from when she departed.
Flexibility becomes a priority and it usually impacts the bottom line. There is a quid pro quo expected by many employers who allow their employees (almost always women) to work flexibly. Women trade away higher income, status and prospects for promotion. That the quality of their work, billings to the organisation and their efficiency may not be impacted is often not relevant.
This outdated lens of evaluating performance based on time in the office has a significant detrimental effect on women and their opportunity for advancement and ability to optimise their earning potential. And if their earnings are limited (or stymied) this has a flow on effect to income apportioned to superannuation.
Despite improvement, the Australian gender pay gap remains a problem. Post continues below.
The lack of involvement of men in caring and household responsibilities is a contributing factor. A conversation followed by action is required to ensure that men assume more of these tasks. That said, there is a growing band of single mothers who will always struggle to work adequate hours to support their household and save for their retirement.
Opting for flexible work in a society such as ours is actually not very optional. Like it or not, our working environment has been established on a traditional, long working day, five days a week. That’s fine until you want to start a family and want to spend any meaningful time with your children.
A lunch with a senior lawyer friend of mine last week demonstrated this point. She’s a senior associate working in a law firm four days a week. Despite exceeding her billing quota, bringing clients to the firm and excellent feedback from clients, the firm continues to delay promoting her to partnership. She doesn’t fit the traditional, long day, long week mould.
The census data of 2006 projected that by 2031 (only 15 years away), couples without children will become the most common family type in Australia.
This is partly due to an aging population but also the choice made by couples to remain childless. There are myriad reasons why people decide not to have children. That the data reveals that working part time or flexibly to care for children has a detrimental effect on your long term career prospects may factor into that decision making. It begs the question what sort of a society we live in that women can only achieve wage parity by remaining childless.
The question remains (and for the Senate committee to address) how we alter an entrenched mindset about the workforce and reform a system to embrace 50 per cent of the population. The terms of reference of the Senate committee will examine whether there are any structural impediments in the superannuation system.
It will examine any possible reforms to current laws relating to superannuation, social security payments, paid parental leave, discrimination, or any other relevant measure. A start might be tax deductibility for child care, something women have advocated for years. The ability to share super with your partner should also be considered. And ensuring more women are in control of the purse strings.
Liora Miller is a project manager at an independent school in Melbourne, Australia. She’s the mother of three, usually healthy, opinionated children. In a previous life she was a political adviser and costs lawyer. And she doesn’t miss it at all.