Date posted: 4/05/2021 4 min read

Women and retirement savings: the need for more data

The Australian Taxation Office should produce reports that detail superannuation savings for single people and couples to help address the gender gap.

In Brief

  • The Australian Government should publish more detailed data on retirement savings
  • The overall gender gap in superannuation balances stands at 38.8%
  • There’s speculation new measures in the Budget will address the gender gap in super

The Australian Government should publish more detailed data on the retirement savings of individuals and couples so that policies to address the gender gap can be evaluated, says Tony Negline, Superannuation Leader at Chartered Accountants ANZ.

Women’s retirement savings are often significantly less than those of men. Women retire with about half the superannuation of men, with the overall gender gap in superannuation balances standing at 38.8%, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

This gap is typically the result of unequal pay, and women are also much more likely to take on unpaid care work, work part-time and have broken work histories.

But it’s difficult to assess what a good targeted policy solution would look like without adequate data, says Negline.

“It’s very common to see this issue addressed solely from the point of view of average account balances by gender,” he says. “We know the ATO already collects a lot of data but at the moment it doesn’t publish data that provides a complete picture.”

With Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg due to bring down the Federal Budget on 11 May, there’s speculation it will contain measures to address the gender gap in super

Any policy intervention needs to take into account that most people live in a relationship, Negline says. Most couples pool their savings, and the Government’s age pension assessment recognises this by assessing singles and couples using different thresholds for income and asset tests.

The 2019 Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey shows that 65% of people, aged at least 65, live in a household with their spouse, who is also aged at least 65. For lower age cohorts, the percentage of couple households is even higher.

When relationships fail, all assets of the relationship — including superannuation assets — are taken into account when a property split is finalised.

However, Negline says splitting super assets when a couple separate can be complex, time consuming and costly and more needs to be done to improve this.

The ATO has “good quality” superannuation data collated by individual tax file numbers. It can easily match couples from individual tax returns and also determine who is single.

He says the current report should continue to be published for all individuals, but the Tax Office should produce two additional reports annually that detail superannuation savings for single people and couples. Each should contain average and median values along with age, state, postcode and federal electorate data.

Once the ATO produces annual data for these three areas, the Government would have a much better picture of the retirement savings problem and be better able to target solutions, such as giving more assistance to single retirees if the data showed this was the area most in need of policy attention, Negline says.

Related reading

The 2019 Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey

Read more