The Future Face of Poverty is Female

To investigate the mounting evidence surrounding the gender gap in superannuation, AustralianSuper commissioned research by Monash University. The result of which is a report titled ‘The Future Face of Poverty is Female: The Stories Behind Australian Women’s Superannuation Poverty in Retirement’.


The stories behind Australian Women's Superannuation Poverty in Retirement

The problem of the gender gap in superannuation is well documented and yet little known. Women’s superannuation balances are typically more than 40% less than men’s. Commentaries surrounding these statistics often return to a focus on individual-based solutions and choices. The AustralianSuper-Monash University report goes beyond the numbers and explores the complex cultural, structural, and economic reasons across women’s lives that can lead to superannuation poverty.

This report provides an analysis and evaluation of some of the key factors that contribute to the superannuation gap of Australian women. Methods of analysis include a statistical overview using panel data from the Household, Income and Labour in Australia Survey (HILDA)1. This was supplemented by commentary from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)2, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA)3, and in-depth interviews with 40 women age 40 and over from across Australia.



Key findings from the report 

  • Women who take parental leave and work part time will be subject to a superannuation ‘double penalty’ effect: (i) lower or no superannuation contributions are made as a direct result of reduced paid work; (ii) the detrimental effect of part-time work and career breaks on opportunities for promotion and moving jobs (and associated salary increases). 
  • Women’s work trajectories deviate from the standard model that superannuation expectations and projections are often built upon. These assume a continuous, linear, upward financial trajectory. 
  • The disproportionate allocation of domestic responsibilities on women over their lives (often referred to as ‘the second shift’) results in the women being in a difficult position to build up a superannuation balance commensurate with their male counterparts.
  • Organisational cultures that are sexist, misogynistic or hostile to women can have significant consequences for accumulation, through prohibiting progression, forcing women to change occupations, or restart their careers elsewhere, impacting earnings and savings. 
  • ‘Smashing back through the glass ceiling’, where older women experience a narrowing or regression of career and development opportunities due to older female stereotypes or perceptions (‘gendered ageism’) often thwarts the possibility of attempting to catch up on retirement saving in later life.
  • Adverse life events, including divorce, single parenthood, and family illness, have a disproportionate effect on women’s financial security, due to the unpaid caring responsibilities they face, or the financial consequences of having sacrificed their own employment trajectory in order to support their partner’s career.

There’s no financially ‘good time’ for women to invest in themselves

The report finds that due to complex intersections, there’s no financially ‘good time’ for women to invest in themselves and their own future economic security. To reduce the retirement pay gap solely to a ‘choice’ narrative undermines the lived experience of women. This is because their ‘choices’ are typically in the context of what’s best for the immediate or extended family, not necessarily women as individuals.

Instead, a list of recommendations focuses on productive ways to challenge broader structural, cultural and organisational challenges that impact women’s superannuation poverty.


1 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics
3 Workplace Gender Equality Agency

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