Women are still well behind in their retirement savings compared to men, but females investing through SMSFs are picking up pace in the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Though there’s a long road to equality, these milestones are worthy of attention.
Why are we talking about this?
This Sunday, March 8, marks International Women’s Day (IWD.) IWD sees its mission as celebrating women’s achievements, championing their talents and strengths. This is one part of a much bigger program: to reach a point where women have equal opportunity, representation and treatment in their homes, workplaces and public lives.
Financial independence and literacy is widely seen as crucial to achieving equality. It’s something often heralded by former sex discrimination commissioner and Australian lawyer, Elizabeth Broderick, notably in her work for the Human Rights Commission. As far back as 2007, research she led found economic independence allows women to live a life of their choosing.1
Why does it matter?
For women, financial independence in retirement is critical. Statistically speaking, women outlive men2, and yet have substantially lower superannuation balances at retirement compared to their male counterparts. Research indicates the savings gap between men and women at retirement can be up to 47%.3,4
“Many Australian women face an insecure retirement. Men's superannuation balances at retirement are on average twice as large as women's. In practice this means that women, particularly single women, are at greater risk of experiencing poverty, housing stress and homelessness in retirement,” a 2016 parliamentary report stated.
How women in SMSFs are bucking trends
Figures from the ATO indicate women are picking up pace in their retirement savings, particularly in the self-managed cohort.
Figures released in 2019, which draw on data from the 2016–17 financial year, show the SMSF savings gap between men and women is reducing with time (though it’s still high.) At 30 June 2017, male SMSF members held 58% of total assets compared with 42% for females.5
Over the five years to June 2017, the ATO’s data shows average member contributions grew 80% for females compared with 71% for males. Further, average employer contributions increased by 25% for females compared with 23% for males.
Notably, average female member balances over the period increased by 32% to $603,000. By comparison, average male balances increased by 25% to $736,000.
This data is in line with a slow and steady trend upwards for women in terms of their SMSF balances and representation within the sector.
Where to next?
A growing, global body of research6 7earmarks female investors as one of the fastest-growing, capable segments of the investor population.
“Around the world, women’s wealth and income are growing faster than ever. Powerful demographic, economic and technological changes are increasing women’s financial strength and independence,” EY said, as one example.8
The rhetoric globally parallels the experience in Australia: women are slowly chipping away at the equality divide, albeit substantial, and financial independence is one big tool up their sleeve. Segments of the market – like female SMSF members – look likely to continue pushing for this progress well into the 2020s.
4 Superannuation account balances by age and gender, ASFA, 2017
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