Australia’s superannuation system worsens gender gap

The Australia Institute (TAI) has released a new study arguing that Australia’s compulsory superannuation system is worsening the gender gap:

[Australian] men get 72 per cent of the $41 billion per year in superannuation tax concessions.

Taxation statistics show that the average (mean) superannuation balance at the end of 2017-18 was $153,300 for males and $120,200 for females.5 This represents a 27.5 per cent difference in favour of males…

The average is susceptible to bias due to the occasional very high incomes that might be included. But looking at the median figures the advantage in favour of males is even worse. Figure 7 shows the median superannuation balances for males and females across various age ranges.

Male vs female superannuation balances

When we look at the differences between median superannuation balances for male and female, we find that men have much higher balances. For 35- to 39-year-old males the median super balance exceeds the female median by 31 per cent and peaks at a 51 per cent male advantage for the 50-to-54-year age group. Figure 8 shows the percentage difference between the median male and female superannuation balances for various age ranges…

Male vs female superannuation differences

The statistical evidence reveals large gender inequalities in the superannuation system. It is worth also pointing out that superannuation in Australia is heavily subsidised through tax concessions, especially concessions on workers’ incomes in the form of super contributions as well as concessions on the earnings of super funds. Together those two tax concessions are estimated to be worth $39 billion in 2019-20…

The reason why women accumulate less superannuation than men is obvious.

The entire system has been set up so that the longer somebody works, and the more they get paid, the bigger the superannuation balances they retire with:

Lifetime taxpayer cost of superannuation concessions

Superannuation concessions are skewed to high income earners.

This leads to men accumulating larger superannuation balances, despite not living for as long.

Lifting the compulsory superannuation guarantee (SG) to 12% will obviously worsen the retirement gap between men and women, while also costing taxpayers an extra $2 billion in tax concessions every year.

Rather than lifting the SG, scarce taxpayer funds should instead be used to lift the Aged Pension, which is Australia’s genuine retirement pillar.

Unlike superannuation, the Aged Pension does not discriminate by gender. It does not discriminate on how long somebody spends in paid work or how much they earn. And because the Aged Pension is means tested, it is generally targeted towards those that need it most (with the exception of asset rich home owning retirees).

Sadly, the Morrison Government has caved-in to the superannuation industry and Labor and will procced with lifting the SG to 12%. This will increase superannuation’s budgetary cost and make it more difficult to lift the Aged Pension, while also lowering wage growth and increasing inequality (including gender equality).

Unconventional Economist


  1. The Retirement Income Review suggested that the gender retirement gap is overstated. The reduced super balances that women have compared to men is largely caught up just prior to retirement (when partners have hit their limits and so top up the spouses in a lumpnsum) and then again when it comes to the aged pension (which women get a greater share of because it is means tested and they live longer).

  2. kannigetMEMBER

    Gender breakdown on inheritance
    While they may accumulate less superannuation, they tend to inherit more in later years. Not suggesting it completely evens out but after the age of 40 over 60% of beneficiaries are female, you would have to assume that some of that is actually the superannuation of their spouse.

    When you look at the 2018 data from that link above and dig into marital status at death by gender you see that women out inherit from their partners 39928 to 15265, or another way to look at it. 20083 men inherited from their spouses vs the 42448 women who inherit from their spouses. So in 2008 women were twice as likely to inherit the assets ( super etc ) from their partners as men were. This doesn’t account for defacto relationships either, but you could expect it to mirror the marriage data.

    Why have we suddenly moved to only looking at the relationship as 2 independent entities? When married ( or defacto ), both parties benefit from the wages of both parties, if one earns more they tend to support the other through greater contribution towards expenses. When the relationship ends, this is also usually borne out through the asset split etc. When one partner dies the other inherits all the partners assets in almost 99% of cases.

    It sucks when your a single person, or divorced but the majority of people were either married or widowed at time of death

    Its interesting how these people can do research into how gender effects play out in the benefits associated with superannuation but cant seem to see the problem that occurs due to overall earning capacity….

    • I must confess I agree. Why does gender difference matter? If a household has two partners then why does it matter if one doesn’t work and has low super, while the other does and has high super? Both get to access the combined super (including after death and divorce).

      It’s a bit like drawing conclusions on who is the legal owner of property in a marriage – it doesn’t matter who’s on the title both parties have rights to asset. If the data showed it was owned 80% by men (I don’t what it is) who cares? How is super different?

      I bet if you dove into the data it would show that people in the same “situation” have the same super, irrespective of gender. So in that sense, super absolutely doesn’t discriminate by gender.

      What’s the actual problem does differential super holdings between the genders cause?

      • lol, because the north shore mum whom only has $300k in her super account is staring down the barrel of retirement poverty!! Based on her super balance alone how will she pay for the upkeep on the $7m house one the husband is dead? + the maintenance on 2 mercs and the local dry dock?

        In all seriousness, not once have I seen one of these studies actually delve into the demographics, ie. yeah, 60 year old couples tend to have most of the money in the husbands name, thats how society worked. But no, peddling the narrative that a 23 year old female law graduate will retire with 40%less super than her male counterpart is a far more compelling narrative wouldn’t you say.

        The ironic thing is, it’s the super lobby that is running hardest on the gender based argument, they see it as having far better public/political impact that the pure math, which is very simply pay (job) gap = a savings gap (mind blowing stuff!).

      • working class hamMEMBER

        Gender pay gap issues reinforce the narrative that women are off no use without earning an income. It feeds into the pressure that is placed upon every person in society, that your individual income producing capacity is the total of your societal value. Traditional roles in society have been labelled misogynistic, separate bank accounts have become the norm, with children raised by minimum pay wage slaves. Don’t discuss the real underlying problems created by this, for fear of being labelled a pig.

        • Absolutely correct.

          All of these gender wage gaps are entirely invented. If you strip out the data on any of these studies and compare women who have never married to men, the women earn the same or more. The fact remains that MANY women still WANT to stay home and raise kids. Its not because they are forced to do it, they want to. It is normal and HEALTHY in society. Many women who intend to go to back to work often change their minds and decide they’d rather be home with their children. Again this doesn’t afflict men as much as we can’t have babies.

          All of those gender wage gap studies in addition to not factoring this in, also do not consider:

          1. The fact that men do more dangerous jobs that are highly paid. I read somewhere men are 50 times more likely to die on the job.

          2. Men tend to enter STEM fields in higher percentages. There is conscious or unconscious choices that men and women make.

          3. The fact that women who did take time off to raise kids, may have missed five, 10 or even 15 years of continuous work. Depending on the industry they are in this naturally leaves them behind on the pay scale. Any man who took the same time off would be in the same position.

          The often quoted number in the USA is women earn 77% of what men do. We know that is ridiculous, because if business owners could legally pay women 23% less for the same identical jobs they wouldn’t hire men. Even if the women turned out to be less efficient there is an immediate and massive bump on the bottom line for one of the biggest costs – Labour.

  3. I agree with all of you. The gender gap issue is largely invented. But I still like to highlight that lifting the SG will only make it worse. Far better and cheaper to divert resources to lifting the Aged Pension.

    • Considering that the media is going to keep beating the gender wage gap drum, regardless of arguments against it, I think it’s completely valid for you to use it as an argument to support improving the equity of the retirement system.

    • kannigetMEMBER

      My issue is that by allowing people to apply the Gender Gap to a side issue allows them to claim the “truth” of the gender pay gap is irrefutable due to its impact on Superannuation.

      The Gender pay gap must be real because we can see how it plays out in X.

      But yes, average female earnings are reduced compared to men, Rampant Feminists prefer to see it as causality of gender discrimination instead of correlation of gender preferences and situation. It only plays out in these figures due to exclusion of other related circumstances like inheritance and inter marriage sharing / dependence.

      I could argue that women work less for the money they get during their life time despite lower incomes due to the fact that they get supported through pregnancy, share their male partners income and assets as well as more likely to inherit whats left. Its a facetious argument, and I would not bother but its in line with the Gender Pay gap logic already at play.

  4. Valid arguments above. That aside, why would it matter if there was a gender gap? Super by its nature advantages those that have higher lifetime earnings. Those with lower earnings and broken work patterns are disadvantaged. Does it matter that most of those that are disadvantaged are women? Low income earners are disadvantaged by this sucky system, I have no idea why it matters what gender they for the most part are.

    • It matters because talking about gender distracts from the reality that low income earners are the ones disadvantaged, or more to the point, high income earners are advantaged.