Women earn less than men on average. That's bad.
Women often take time out of the paid workforce to bring up their families. That's good for the kids, but not necessarily for mum.
Women prioritise family needs over their own retirement plans. That's good for the family, but perhaps not for themselves.
Women live longer than men, on average. That's hopefully good, assuming they remain healthy.
Put the four together and the effect on women's pensions can be devastating. Lower earnings mean less money available to save. Time out of the workforce means gaps in retirement provision. Short-term financial priorities mean lower percentages of income saved for retirement. And longer lifespans mean more expensive annuity rates.
The private pension of a woman who has brought up children may only be about half of her husband's pension. And relying on her husband to provide for her retirement is risky. He may well die before her after buying a single-life pension, or he may have left before retirement, taking his pension with him. The proportion of divorce cases where pension is taken into account is shockingly low.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Scottish Widows has again asked that question in our recent Women and Pensions Report.
There is good news, which is that the imbalance in state pensions has largely been resolved. From April, 30 years of National Insurance contributions or credits will provide a full basic state pension. Many more women will get it, and for those who fall a bit short there's the facility to buy ‘added years' at very reasonable rates.
However, the picture for private provision has actually got a bit worse over the last year. By our definition, 47% of women who could and should be saving for retirement are doing enough, compared with 59% of men. Over half of women are going to see a sharp fall in their living standard when they retire, and the gender gap has grown from 9% to 12% over the year.
We found that women have been made more aware of the need to save during the recession. They just haven't done anything about it, and even where they were stirred into action their focus has been on the short term.
There's no current political will to force women to save, but we should make it easy and attractive. Automatic enrolment into pensions will help, and we need a good publicity campaign to encourage women to stay enrolled. Meanwhile women need easy access to simple guidance, because they find pensions complicated and off-putting.
Given their short-term financial concerns, women might be more attracted to pensions if it was possible to make hardship withdrawals, or if there were ‘feeder' investments that moved automatically into pension over time but were not immediately tied up.
I also see great attractions for women in using ISAs for retirement savings and moving them into pension closer to retirement for the tax relief.
Bringing women's pension provision to the same level as men's will be a long haul, and may ultimately be unachievable.
But this is an issue that won't go away, and as an industry we need to do all we can to address it, while lobbying politicians for political changes that would help.
Ian Naismith is head of pensions market development at Scottish Widows
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