Women and Super

The disparity between men and women with employment incomes is well known and persistent. This pay gender gap causes women to experience financial stress.

But another major flow-on impact of that pay divide is the gap between men’s and women’s superannuation balances.

Figures from the Australian Taxation Office’s most recent statistics report showed the average superannuation account balance for; men $161,834 versus $129,506 for women, a $32,328 difference or 20% less.

Considerable research shows women suffer more financial stress than men for a range of reasons. The super gap between men and women is one reason but it also exacerbates existing financial stress at retirement age.

Unfairly, family commitments have a huge impact the amount of super a woman accumulates over a lifetime.

Research by the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) shows that taking a year off each for two children can lead to women having 10 per cent less in superannuation at retirement.

According to the ASFA Retirement Standard, couples ideally need to a lump sum of $640,000 and singles need $545,000 by the age of 67 to avoid struggle in retirement.

Options to safeguard superannuation for women seem on the surface limited as they are pegged to income – and significant income gaps remain between the genders.

The ATO figures show average taxable income is $74,559 for men, $21,000 more than women who earn an average of $52,798.

How can a mindful approach to money help?

Mindfulness is about paying attention to help make wise choices with your money and all personal finance options.

When it comes to super, many people don’t pay attention to it, forget about it, or don’t value it highly enough.

Being mindful with your superannuation is about keeping track of it, investing it in alignment with your values and risk profile, maximising contributions, and minimising fees.

“Paying this level of care and attention to your super fund will help it to grow,” says behavioural money coach Lea Clothier.

If you’re in a partnership, it could also mean having a discussion with your partner about ways you can boost your super savings through voluntary contributions, which have tax benefits.

Voluntary contributions can come from a range of methods including:

    • Selling personal items;
    • putting cash bonuses into super; and
    • putting tax refunds into super.

“Why not think about contributing it to your super all or in part, if you can afford to do so, and it’s within your agreed strategy?” Ms Clothier says.

Also, consider the many incentives available to help you boost super like salary sacrifice, spouse contributions and co-contributions.

Talk about super

With all things finance and partnership, constructive, open conversations usually support the health of the relationship and the health of our finances.

There are many options available to work together to boost your super balances together, and as a team.

If increasing super is a priority, then it’s also important to communicate this priority with your accountant, adviser and any other professional that you get financial advice or guidance from.


    • Pay attention to your super – it’s your future money. Check your contributions, investments, fees, and overall performance at least annually.
    • If you’re a couple, consider Spouse Contributions to help top up the shortfall.  Generally, for women earning less than $37,000 per year, their spouse can generally contribute $3,000 each year to their super and receive a $540 rebate on tax.
    • Consider making small, regular additional contributions to your super fund. With the benefits of compounding, even small amounts will grow over time.
    • Salary sacrifice can be a great way to boost your super savings whilst also reducing your personal tax.
    • Make the most of the Government co-contribution. If you’re eligible, this amount can be up to $500.




Why do women under-earn, what can women do about it

Research constantly proves the point that women earn less than men.

In Australia, legislation exists to promote and improve gender equality (including equal remuneration between women and men) in employment and in the workplace. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency was set up in 1986 to promote and improve workplace gender equality and administers this legislation.

Women earn 86.7 per cent of what men do, on average, according to the agency.

The latest figures, November 2020, show women’s average weekly full-time earnings across all jobs was $1,562.00 compared to men’s average weekly ordinary full-time earnings of $1,804.20. That is a 13.4 per cent difference.

This is known as the gender pay gap, and it means, on average women earn $242 less each week than men.

The situation has been improving since 2014 when the gap was 18.5 per cent, but not significantly in the last 10 years. In 2004 it was 14.9 per cent.

The health care and social services sector has the largest gap – 24.4 per cent.

In the United Kingdom in 2020, the gender pay gap was 15.5 per cent. In the United States, the gap is 16 per cent, and New Zealand is around 9 per cent.

This is a real, long-established, chronic, and truly international which leads to financial stress.

The impact on women is also well documented. Aside from the difference in regular income, which places women under chronic financial stress, there is a gulf between men and women in retirement savings. Women retire with 42 per cent less superannuation than men.

In real terms, if a man retires with $270,710, a woman has just $157,050, according to Australian Super.

It should be self-evident, but productivity between men and women isn’t the reason for the gender pay gap.

Look around at most families and in most offices – it would be difficult to argue with any conviction that women deserve to be paid less for the work they do.

In fact, there is evidence women may be more productive.

According to the American productivity platform Hive, women work 10 per cent harder than men in today’s offices, the World Economic Forum reported.

Hive says both men and women actually complete about 66 per cent of their assigned work. However, women are assigned 10 per cent more work than men these days — that they achieve the same completion rate tells us that they’re being more industrious.

Think about the way life challenges women to multitask in families and society. There are of course individual situations that differ from the norm, but generally, women take the lead on child-rearing and are still doing the lion’s share of domestic duties, despite also working.

Women comprise 47.2% of all employed persons in Australia.

So, more men are employed, by a small percentage, but women perform many more tasks across the day, the week, and the year on average.

This means women are, very generally speaking, are busier and achieving more than men, and women earn between 10 and 20 per cent less than men across the western world.

The reasons for the gender pay gap are many, varied. They include educational differences, occupation, age or family and motherhood. Some of the gender pay gap is down to conscious and unconscious bias – in both men and women.

The biases in men towards paying women at better rates are partly sex discrimination.

In 2016, Australia’s workplace gender equality agency said: The results show that gender discrimination and industrial and occupational segregation persist, and continue to be significant drivers to the gender pay gap.

But some of the unconscious bias in contributing to the gender pay gap also belongs to women.

“Whilst gender barriers do exist, and the pay gap is real, the fact remains that many women undervalue themselves and their contributions,” says behavioural money coach and speaker, Lea Clothier.

“Many women are in fact themselves the barrier to their own success.”

In my experience as a behavioural money coach, I have discovered that many women have a belief in the narrative that they will underearn men. Ms Clothier says.

Under-earning is the reality of earning less than one might expect, given that person’s skills, abilities, experience, qualifications and actual contributions. In other words, being underpaid.

Ms Clothier says persistent societal beliefs such as accepting the idea that men will earn more than men, along with self-worth and confidence are the major barriers that women face.

Many women lack the confidence to take the risk and ask for a pay rise or go for a job with a higher salary.

I also find that many women lack the knowledge on how to successfully negotiate a pay rise or confidence to have challenging conversations.

She says anyone negotiating a pay rise must fully and objectively consider the value that they have contributed.

This means looking at the facts for evidence, getting clear on the contributions made in terms of increased productivity, completion of projects, streamlined efficiencies, increased profitability.

If you can adequately show the value you have directly provided to the company’s people, performance or profits then it can provide evidence to show the value you are bringing in your role and the contribution you have made and can make the pay rise discussion easier to have.

It is both an empowering truth and a difficult one that our own thoughts, words and actions create our reality in life and that also applies to our financial reality.

Disclaimer: Lea Clothier is a product designer and senior leadership team member of Financial Mindfulness.