Women, retirement and poverty 38



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Reading some of the statistics about women and particularly single women in retirement, can be pretty depressing. There are numerous stories about older, generally single women living in poverty.

Many of these have worked for most of their lives but for a variety of reasons have found themselves in financial trouble at a time when we would all like to have some financial security. Women who don’t own their own homes are particularly vulnerable.

There are lots of reasons why some women end up in this horrible situation and it certainly isn’t always through their own fault. Our current economic system is loaded against women and here are some of the factors that have added to the problem:

  • Less than equal pay. In spite of years of agitation, women generally get paid less than men. In 2014 the difference in average salaries was 18%. This means there’s less opportunity to save for retirement.
  • Time out of the workforce. Women have to take time out of the workforce to raise children. As a result they are losing out on income they could have made as well as superannuation savings. This interruption to a career often slows their promotion to better paying positions which also means less money going into their superannuation savings.

The organisation,” Women in Super” estimate that on average retiring women have $90,000 less in their super than men.

  • Single income families. If a woman is single, or a single mother, it means it’s a lot more difficult to save money or fund a mortgage. The chances of compiling a healthy retirement fund are very remote.

The net result of all these factors is that many women enter retirement with very modest savings / superannuation and single women are generally at the lower end of the “modest” scale.

So what can be done?

There’s no single, easy answer. Clearly equal pay for equal work would help. So would other changes to the big picture issues involving child care, superannuation and paid parental leave.

However there are a few things that individuals can do to improve their own long term financial position:

Save, save, save. Get into the habit of saving or investing a little of your salary every pay day.

Take an active interest in your superannuation account. Superannuation offers most people the best chance of achieving financial security in retirement. Don’t just make the minimum payments and ignore what’s happening to your super. Salary sacrifice whenever possible and put as much as you can afford into your super. Most super funds offer investment options designed to yield higher or lower returns, depending on the level of risk involved. Talk to your super fund’s financial planners regularly and make sure that your money is generating as much as it safely can.

If at all possible buy your home, or part of your home. If you don’t have a partner and can’t fund a mortgage by yourself, think about sharing the purchase with a friend, relative or acquaintance. Shared housing is becoming more popular and is a good way to reduce many of your living costs.

If you’re single, insurance isn’t an optional extra.   If you don’t have a partner’s salary to fall back on in times of unemployment or serious illness, it’s important to have some Income Protection Insurance and Trauma Insurance. If you don’t have any money coming in in times when you’re not working, Centrelink is unlikely to be enough and you can easily get into serious debt. Talk to a good insurance broker.

Unfortunately, many of these suggestions require sacrifices and I wish I could offer easier options. However, the worst idea is to ignore your financial future and just hope for the best. The “best” might not be much good when you’re 65 and poor.


Tell us, have you living beneath the bread line in retirement? What advice would you give to those approaching retirement age?


Paul McKeon

Paul McKeon is the founder of the website www.mylifechange.com.au and the publisher of 3 books about lifestyle issues affecting people in their 50s, 60s and 70s. The books are titled – “The Rest of Your Life”, “Relationships in our 50s – 60s and beyond” and “How to stay Healthy, Active and Sharp in Retirement”. All the books can be purchased on his web site. He had a career in marketing, tourism, sports promotion and publishing in Australia, the UK and S.E. Asia. His books and website stress that a successful retirement is about more than good money management and people need to consider the important lifestyle issues if they are going to find lasting happiness.

  1. All very well for our children and following generations but not much help for those women over sixty. The wage disparity in our working years was much greater, there was no compulsory superannuation until we were in middle life, no spare funds for voluntary super contributions as we worked for me agree wages to make ends meet, there was little or no government assistance such as the family assistance available to parents today and no maternity leave in many industries so no employment to go back to when you wanted to return to work so you had to start over where you were often seen as unreliable because you had children and might leave to have another. Maybe the Government needs to look at this situation and while it currently exists and supplement this generation. Future generations will not be as disadvantaged.

    2 REPLY
    • I agree whole heartedly I worked most of my adult life except for a few years when my children were very young when they got to kindy and school age I worked part time. No super until the last 25 years which was very little when you only got $7.50 an hour it wasn’t until I was in my 50’s that I got good pay but was getting to old for the work (banana work) is for the young got to physical for me, tried to get shop or office work when I was 60 as I am able to use a computer, and programs like Word and Excel but could not get any so stayed with the bananas but had to stop at 63. Because of all that my super was almost non existent, so money is tight.

  2. I have a friend in this position. She’s 2.5 years from qualifying for the age pension and has just lost her job of 20+ years. She finishes in October and our area is a high unemployment area. She’ll get a small payout but Centerlink won’t help her out until she’s used all of that up. Then, she’ll be put on Newstart. Her rent is more than Newstart. I am wracking my brains trying to think up options for her. So far I’ve been told of a site where you can register as a carer and live in for the cost of your work. Anybody know of anything else?

  3. When I was young and working we were told that out taxes were paying for us to be well cared for in our old age. After 50 yrs of working and paying taxes all I have is broken promises.

    3 REPLY
    • That was clearly incorrect. Your taxes paid for your parents retirement. Other taxpayers today will pay for yours, if you haven’t made provision to manage on your own.

    • Yes same here. We paid pretty high taxes from our meagre earnings but the various governments forgot to put it in the “bank” like they Di in the U.K. , Italy and some other countries. Very sad really.

  4. I dont have anything,but im lucky to have a room at my sisters house without her id be homeless the government need to help us

  5. Your superanuation from your GOVT is never enough to cover your costs im afraid but you have to budget go to your bank they have people there that can help you,, plus you may have hidden entitalments that tjey have convoently forgot to tell you ,, ex heip with rent etc,,,,, good luck……

  6. I am 62 and have managed to work fairly continuously over the past 3 years since my marriage broke up. I am now only working 2 days per week which will go to 3 days in September in a job that finishes in January. I need a knee replacement and have other medical issues so what is going to happen in January heaven only knows. I have decided to get some of my super to pay all my insurances and regular debts, as transition to retirement but when that runs out I hope my children will take me in. Only hope left.

  7. Yeh it is rubbish, I had a husband that drained me dry,gambled the lot, I am now 60 have nothing, and live on 90 pw after the rent is paid.. That has to cover food, power phone, pet, fuel rego.. Absolutely everything, ok to say move to regional area.. I am in a regional area! Trying to get a few grand together to move States to be near family is impossible! Tassie is winter drained the last of what I had!

  8. My ex spent everything, I lost my property that I owned before we married, (he was a bankrupt) he then proceeded to run up debts of over $25,000 on my credit card while I was working in China. So I live on my pension. No property. Travel and house sit. No rainy day money but I do ok. No complaints, I take full responsibility for being dumb enough to not see through him. I’m sure there’s lots of stories like this, from men and women.

    1 REPLY
    • I have a very similar story where my ex ripped me off too and stole everything I had from under my nose but like you I just have to get on with it and let it be water under the bride for being so stupid.I might not be rich now but I am happy and in a good place.I am coping OK on my pension and thankful that my age allows me to have this still.I did the maths the other day and these young people now are going to have to have at least a million dollars put away in Super to be able to draw a pension that pays what we get now on the pension.The government is pulling the wool over their eyes and leading them up the garden path where their Super is concerned.God help this young generation that will have no idea of what is ahead of them until it is too late.

  9. As a social justice and housing equity advocate and activist I found this article to be interesting. Thank you for raising awareness around the inequities that continue to impoverish women.

    While it briefly addresses some of the gender inequities that negatively impact of women, inclusion of the inequities that surround women in property settlements would have been beneficial.

    As the author has identified there is no simple solution. However change from a systemic level is essential in redressing the imbalance of financial and social power that still exits. It is indeed by raising awareness, advocacy and those with the power to do so implementing change that a fairer system for all will be reached.

    Certainly financial literacy for women through education and systemic change has the potential to protect women from financial and housing insecurity during their lifespan.

    Unfortunately while the author’s advice to save, save, save seems sound when women have limited income this is not a viable option. After all – half of nothing – is still nothing.

    While I appreciate the author’s view that his suggestions “require sacrifice” I have no doubt that this is something with which the majority of women are acutely aware of. As demonstrated by the aforementioned inequities, sacrifice is a condition visited upon women by their gender.

    On the whole the article addresses the symptoms of women’s financial inequities. For women living with no or low fixed incomes the solutions are not a viable option.

    Solutions to the inequities require strong leadership by government in “leading by example”. Further businesses, agencies and organisations within communities have a responsibility to implement equity in employment and financial dealings relating to women.
    Penny Leemhuis

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