Living Longer on Less

Living Longer on Less Paper Published in SAGE Open

LLOLSageArticleThe open-access journal SAGE Open has published an article written by WHIN staff in its August 2015 edition.

Living Longer On Less: Women, paid work, and superannuation in Victoria, Australia examines the paid work experiences of women aged over 55 years of age with less than $100,000 in superannuation, attempting to understand how women's experiences of paid work are linked to low superannuation.

It explores how, while discrimination in the paid workforce is an important contributor to women's low superannuation balances, the more important factors were outside the workforce. These factors include the deprioritisation of women's paid work compared with men's, unpaid care, disability, ill health and older age, and violence.

 Living Longer on Less Project


It seems everyone knows that women retire with much less super than men, but there is no discussion about it, and certainly no outrage!

Stark Inequities

womanAn Australian woman retires with

$112,000 superannuation (on average).


manAn Australian man retires with

$198,000 superannuation (on average).


Women over 65 now comprise 15% of the population and can expect to live about a quarter of their life beyond Age Pension entitlement at 67.

More than 50% of retired women live in households with annual incomes below $30,000.

Single, divorced and widowed women are amongst the most disadvantaged.

Living Longer on Less is a partnership project between Women's Health In the North (WHIN) and Women's Health Goulburn North East (WHGNE) and is supported by an expert Reference Group. It began in December 2012, aiming to gather the experiences of women aged over 55 from diverse backgrounds across metropolitan and rural areas about how they plan to pay for their own care as they age. The Living Longer on Less Report is available here. The Foreword to this Report was kindly written by Elizabeth Broderick, Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner and Human Rights Commissioner. A postcard summarises the findings. Please click here to view it, and contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for copies.


Historic and On-Going Discrimination

Since the inception of the compulsory superannuation scheme in 1992, the plight of women retirees has remained largely unheeded by politicians, the government and the superannuation industry, with some of the measures introduced being openly detrimental to women.

Unequal Pay

17% less pay than men.

Interrupted Career Path

The compulsory superannuation system is gendered - built on a model of a 'normal taxpayer', who works as an employee in a full-time position for an uninterrupted period of 35 years - a system that favours what has traditionally been a typical male working pattern of continuous, full-time work in a career with regular pay increases. Women typically have an interrupted career path - bearing and raising the next generation (or two) of taxpayers or caring for ageing parents, sick partners or adult children with disabilities.

Superannuation structure

A superannuation structure that rewards the typical male career of continuous full-time work and penalises workers on low pay or in part-time work - mostly women.

Gender Workplace Statistics

The Gender Gap


  • In November 2014, the national gender pay gap was 18.8% ($298 per week less than men).
  • The pay gap has worsened, increasing from 17.4% since November 2013.
  • An average Australian woman would have to work an extra 66 days per year to receive the same pay as an average Australian man.


  • In November 2014, the state gender pay gap was 14.6%.
  • The pay gap has improved, decreasing from 15.3% since November 2013.
  • An average Victorian woman would need to work an extra 52 days per year to receive the same pay as an average Victorian man.

The gender pay gap is the difference between women's and men's average weekly full-time equivalent earnings, expressed as a percentage of men's earnings. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (Agency) calculates the national gender pay gap using Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) Average Weekly Full-Time Earnings data (cat. no. 6302.0). The national gender pay gap is currently 18.8% and has hovered between 15% and 19 % for the past two decades.

The gender pay gap is influenced by a number of interrelated work, family and societal factors, including stereotypes about the work women and men 'should' do, and the way women and men 'should' engage in the workforce. Other factors that contribute to the gender pay gap include:

  • women and men working in different industries (industrial segregation) and different jobs (occupational segregation) - historically, female-dominated industries and jobs have attracted lower wages than male-dominated industries and jobs;
  • A lack of women in senior positions, and a lack of part-time or flexible senior roles - women are more likely than men to work part- time or flexibly because they still undertake most of society's unpaid caring work and may find it difficult to access senior roles;
  • women's more precarious attachment to the workforce - largely due to their unpaid caring responsibilities;
  • differences in education, work experience and seniority; and
  • discrimination, both direct and indirect.

Source: Gender Pay Gap Statistics Factsheet, Workplace Gender Equality Agency. (Accessed 04/08/2015)

Other Workplace Statistics

Average graduate salaries for women are 9.4% less than for men.

When factors such as personal characteristics, occupation, industry and education are accounted for, average graduate salaries for women are 4.4% less than for men.

Women constitute 69.2 % of all part-time employees, 35.5% of all full-time employees and 54.8% of all casual employees.

Average superannuation balances for women are 46.6% less than those for men. The average balance for men is $99,509 and women $53,138 (Clare, April 2015). For men aged 50-59, the average balance is $203,909 and for women in the same age bracket it is $91,216. For men aged 25-29, the average balance is $18,899 and for women in the same age bracket it is $13,399.

The latest results from the Agency 's dataset show that:

  • women hold 12.0% of chair positions and 23.7% of directorships in Agency reporting organisations;
  • women represent 17.3% of CEOs, 26.1% of key management personnel, 27.8% of other executives/general managers, 31.7% of senior managers and 39.8% of other managers; and
  • one third (33.5%) of Agency reporting organisations have no key management personnel who are women, and 31.3% of organisations have no other executives/general managers who are women.

Real time statistics from the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) reveal:

  • 20.4 % of directors in the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) 200 were women in the period January - April 2015;
  • women accounted for 30.0% of new appointments to ASX 200 boards in the period January - April 2015; and
  • 15.0% of ASX 200 companies do not have a woman on their board.

Source: Gender Workplace Statistics at a Glance, Workplace Gender Equity Agency (Accessed 04/08/2015)

Persistent Myths

Women choose caring roles

YET this remains a cultural expectation.

Women share a husband's superannuation

YET 42% of Australian women are single.

Women of retirement age own their own home and can live on the pension

YET in 2011, 51% of homeless Victorians aged 55-64 are women.


But It's Not Women Like Me - Is It?


Data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (ALSWH)*

How Women Aged 59 - 64 Manage on their Income

  • 35% had difficulty managing on the income they had (see pie chart below), and one in two (50.9%) expected to have difficulty at age 65.
  • One woman in five had decreased income in the last 12 months.
  • Over half (55.6%) were not completely retired.
  • Half felt stressed about their own health and money.


Issues Affecting Capacity to Work

  • Nearly 3/4 women had taken prescription medications in the previous month (71%).
  • 22.8% provided daily or weekly unpaid childcare.
  • 10.2% provided daily care to someone with a long-term illness, disability or frailty.

*(ALSWH Databook for the 2010 phase 6 survey of the 1946-51 cohort, 2010. Total sample size = 10,011 with varying response rates for each question.)

How Does this Affect Women's Lives?

Poverty, Illness, Homelessness 


What Kind of Woman Lives in Poverty in Old Age?

There was enormous diversity in the women's backgrounds and life experiences - their commonality was their gender.* 



*Edited statements from transcripts.

Demand Changes Now!

Call or email your Federal Member about this gender inequity. The Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) has ideas for action. They recommend that government:

  • Remove the $450 monthly income threshold for exemptions on compulsory super contributions.
  • Add a super component (linked to weekly earnings) to the Government-funded parental leave scheme.
  • Add a return-to-work super bonus for women who have spent time out of the workforce to raise children.
  • Increase the over-50s concessional contributions cap to $50,000 for those with a super balance below $500,000 for 'catch-up' contributions.

Women are often at a disadvantage in advocating for their own rights. Establishment of a Superannuation Consumer Centre would help women who require advocacy or advice in relation to their superannuation. (Although such a centre was proposed in a press release on 22nd October, 2012 from The Hon. Bill Shorten, MP, its establishment is contingent on matching funds from Industry.)


Sincere thanks to the 32 women who were so generous with their time in sharing their life experiences in the belief that change is possible and others will benefit from their contribution and honesty.

We are indebted to the team of experts on the Living Longer on Less Reference Group: Dr Kathy Landvogt, Good Shepherd Youth and Family Service; David Tennant, Family Care; Jeff Fiedler, Manager, Housing for the Aged Action Group Inc.; Dr Deborah Loxton, Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health, University of Newcastle; Dr Meredith Tavener, Priority Research Centre for Gender, Health and Ageing, University of Newcastle; Dr Elizabeth Branigan, Swinburne University; Debra Parnall, Council Of the Ageing; Samiro Douglas, Women's Information and Referral Exchange.

Special thanks to Eva Scheerlinck and Janet de Silva from the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees.

More about the Living Longer on Less Project

Program-Logic-for-Living-Longer-on-LessThis is a Research Project being undertaken by WHIN in collaboration with Women's Health Goulburn North East, our rural partners. A Program Logic for this Project can be found here.