While strides have been made in recent decades to close the earnings gap between men and women, when it comes to pensions and retirement finances the gap is actually widening.
The latest DWP statistics show that in 2006-07 the average retired single woman had a gross income of £294 per week from her pension and retirement savings, while her male counterpart received £325 – a gap of £31 per week. Ten years on, and the average woman receives £316 per week with the average man receiving £401 per week – that’s £85 more.
But what about the current pension planners? Will they have enough tucked away to determine their retirement date?
More women than men work part time or take a break to raise a family, increasing the risk that they will have fewer than the 35 years of NI contributions needed to receive a full State Pension, as well as reducing the contributions they make to company pensions.
So, there’s every reason to assume that a gap will, at the least, remain – putting the onus on women to take more control of their private pensions.
Feeling far from retirement
Saving for a pension is low on 29-year-old Charlotte Madeira’s list of financial concerns.
‘I have a pension scheme with my current employer, into which I pay a very small percentage of my monthly salary,’ she says. ‘Retirement feels quite far in the future, so as long as I’m putting some money away to accumulate over time, it feels as if that’s OK.’
However, Charlotte is conscious that it’s better to start saving sooner rather than later.
‘I think I will need to up my contributions or pay into an additional private scheme, but it’s extremely difficult to save money while renting in London when the cost of living is so high.’
Charlotte is also frustrated that she will have to balance working and saving with family and fun her whole life – especially thanks to the gender pension gap.
‘It’s disconcerting to know that taking career breaks means I could potentially save £20,000 less in my pension pot than my male counterparts.
‘I’ll be working well into my 60s before I can retire, which is pretty daunting. But I’m looking forward to subscribing to those cruise brochures! Apart from that, though, I don’t have a plan.’
The millennial renting problem
Like Charlotte, Jan Reed is typical of many millennials, or ‘Generation Y’, who have found it hard to get onto the property ladder, while paying rent leaves little for anything else.
Aged 37, she is married with one child and has worked for all but six months since she left school 20 years ago.
‘I’ve been paying in my NI contributions, so my State Pension should be okay, but I’ve not been able to save anything towards my own pension,’ she says.
‘We may inherit at some time in the future, but with care costs that is not something one should expect!’
The introduction of auto-enrolment for all companies means that Jan could start to see a pension pot build up over the coming years from both herself and her employer: although statutory contributions are still at a relatively low level, these should rise to a total of 8% from next April.
‘I’d love to think that I could retire in my early 60s,’ says Jan, ‘but on current projections that probably won’t be happening.
‘I work in the catering industry, so wages aren't that high, but whenever a youngster comes into the business I always tell them: ‘Don’t do what I did… start saving now!’’
Taking flight at 55
‘Generation X’ Ellie McCann is 45 and describes herself as ‘highly organised’. Her approach to saving, combined with her circumstances, has helped her reach a point where she hopes to be able to take her foot off the pedal in 10 years’ time.
‘We were lucky enough to get into the housing market at the right time,’ she says, ‘and that has made a big difference. But I also began paying into my own pension plan as soon as I started work when I left university. It wasn’t much at first, but when I was able I began another plan too.
‘I had short gaps for my two children, and now work two zero-hour contracts, each of 15 hours, that I fit around them. But I’ve always kept up the pension payments which means we should pay off the mortgage by the time I’m 55.
‘And then? I’d love to travel. My parents saved like mad for their retirement and had all these plans to see the world… but Dad died just after he left work and never had a chance to do that. That has really shaped my attitude to work and retirement. I want to travel while I’m young enough to really make the most of it.
‘But I can't see me not working in some sort of capacity well into my 60s. I enjoy it too much – interacting with people, being part of a team… it gives you space from your partner too, so that you make the most each other!’
The WASPI dilemma
Born in 1954, Sylvie Reynolds is one of the generation of baby boomer ‘WASPI women’ (Women Against State Pension Inequality) who have found themselves on the wrong side of the rapid rises in State Pension Age in recent years.
‘I’m snookered,’ she says, ‘not just because I have had to keep working longer than I’d hoped before I receive a pension, but when I was working it was usually part time and we were advised not to make NI contributions.
‘I haven't had the opportunity to make up for those lost years, so I won’t get anything like the full State Pension when I do get to retirement age.
‘I haven't got any private pension provision, and my husband only has a small company one in addition to his State Pension. But we do own our own home so we are what you'd call ‘asset rich and cash poor’. We’re lucky in that we can share the pensions we do have and potentially downsize.
‘We’re all living longer now so I don’t have a problem working for a few more years – I just wish I’d known about it earlier! I run my own small wellbeing business and enjoy what I do, but like many people of my age I do have some health issues that make it difficult to work long hours.
‘But we are still better off than many younger people because we do own our own home. It’s so difficult for youngsters now.’
Her advice? ‘It’s not easy if you’re trying to buy a home as well, but having a private pension when you do come to retire is worth making some sacrifices for too!’