Blog: International Women's Day 2023: Embracing equity

With another International Women’s Day just passed, industry focus on the issue of the gender pensions gap has seen a heightened focus. Various organisations again urged the government to consider policy changes, whilst also encouraging individuals to up their contributions to help close the gap.

Efforts in this area are of course needed and very welcome, as research published today (8 March) by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggested that while the state pension gender gap has narrowed, gender differences in average private pension incomes for decades to come.

This is reflected in saver confidence, as previous research from Hargreaves Lansdown also found that whilst 44 per cent men were confident about retirement, this compared to just 26 per cent of women.

But it is important to remember that any lack of confidence may not be through a lack of trying.

Data from More2Life previously suggested that women are actually contributing a higher portion of their monthly income to their pension than men, with women saving an average of 5.1 per cent of their earnings compared to men’s 4.9 per cent.

In addition to this, women have been taking steps to improve their savings in recent years, as recent analysis from PensionBee revealed that average value per contribution increased by 11 per cent for women over the past six years, whilst men saw a 21 per cent fall.

And there is a desire for more information, as research from Phoenix Insight found that 54 per cent of women would like their employer to engage with them more on their workplace pension.

Part of the problem is that much of the gender gap stems from issues that are not of our own making – whether it is caring responsibilities, in a maternal capacity or otherwise, social stigma, the impact of divorce, or unconscious (as well as just plain conscious) bias.

Indeed, recent research from Aviva found that the gender pensions gap widens "significantly" from age 35, with the firm highlighting this age as a "clear line in the sand" when women often make milestone career and childcare decisions.

Interactive Investor’s analysis of data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) also highlighted the "stark impact" of the gender pay gap on retirement outcomes, revealing that women face a pension shortfall at retirement of £68,096, based on comparisons between men and women earning full time salaries and in median terms.

“Being paid less than a man is appalling, and looking at median monthly earnings, the average gender pay gap is around £5,000 for full time employees and that has a knock-effect when it comes to retirement,” Interactive Investor head of pensions and savings, Alice Guy, stated.

Yet some of the discussions aiming to engage women with their pensions, and broader finances, can quickly become patronising. I don’t need to be told how to understand my pension through fashion metaphors or a shoe store analogy.

These were tropes that featured in popular noughties rom coms, such as Confessions of a Shopaholic, where savers are finally able to understand the pitfalls of their store credit card thanks to a clever cashmere coat metaphor.

And whilst once a new approach to relating complicated terms to everyday language, over a decade on, it has become a patronising and boring trope. Particularly considering the systemic issues that many women have to face in building their pensions.

Discussing this issue with women, both inside and outside of the industry, and the most common ask is a simple one: A safe space to ask the stupid questions, without fear of judgement.

But broader policy reform will also be needed if we are to address some of the key inequalities seen around pensions.

Progress may be on the horizon, as Pensions Minister, Laura Trott, recently confirmed plans to begin monitoring and reporting on the gender pension gap regularly, with work to create a definition of the gender pensions gap also ongoing.

And further work to define and understand the gender gap is clearly needed, with data from Aviva revealing that 19 per cent of employers have never heard of the gender pension gap.

Barnett Waddingham policy and strategy lead, Amanda Latham, also welcomed the plans for further gender pensions gap monitoring, arguing that “it is about time the government instigates regular reporting" on this issue.

“It’s time to take the burden of solving this financial failure away from women,” she continued. “We need to consider fiscal, behavioural, and societal issues collectively, and work to create a more robust and inclusive pensions framework that offers fairer solutions for all.”

Alongside this, however, calls for auto-enrolment reform have surged in recent months, as research from Now Pensions and the Pensions Policy Institute revealed that of the 14.6 million employed women in the UK, around 2.5 million (17 per cent) don’t meet the AE qualifying criteria, compared to 8 per cent of men.

Auto-enrolment reforms could hold a potential solution, as the analysis found that basing pension contributions from the first pound earned would increase pension wealth for single mothers by 52 per cent.

Although the government has been reluctant to publish a timeline on such reforms, some changes have been included in a new Private Members Bill, which the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has given its backing too.

Yet with industry efforts surging amid International Women's Day campaign, and women taking the lead in a number of pensions and financial organisations recently, we can only hope that progress could be on the horizon.

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