Life is a complex journey, packed with events that can have a significant impact on your finances. If you’re a woman, these events are very likely to impact your pension balance. If you choose to follow the marriage and children route it’s normally the woman who takes maternity leave and who often returns to work part-time, or sometimes chooses not to return. The husband is the one who continues to work full-time, continuing with his pension contributions.
And then you have divorce, according to fascinating government data analysis, 42% of marriages now end up in divorce. The mean age of divorce for a man is 46 and 44 for a woman. (Nice to see that I am bang on for the average statistic, divorced at 43). These stats are shockingly high, making it even more important for men and women to protect themselves financially.
The stark difference in pension pot sizes
Data analysis from PensionBee highlights the differences in pension pots by age and by sex. And clearly shows the impact of life events on pension pot sizes. On average, men have saved £23,423 towards their retirement compared to just £15,066 saved by women, accounting for a 36% gap in the size of their respective pension pots.
A gender pension gap is evident across all age groups, and only widens with age
A gender pension gap is evident across all age groups, and only widens with age. The data shows that there’s a staggering 51% gap amongst savers in their fifties and over (£56,710 compared to £27,594), more than double the gap of savers under thirty (23%: £4,129 compared to £3,192) and those in their thirties (22%: £14,305 compared to £11,170). It’s interesting to note that the gap is at its smallest before women typically start having children.
Why are there gaps between the sexes?
Women take time off for maternity leave and pension contributions are often stopped (I certainly stopped mine as I couldn’t afford to live once statutory maternity pay kicked in). After babies, women might choose to return to work part-time or take a career break. Pension contributions will drop or even stop compared to their full-time male equivalents.
Many women, particularly in current times are leaving the corporate world to set up their own businesses for increased freedom around childcare responsibilities. This again will cause a drop in pension contributions until the business is established and producing regular income.
Then later in life women often take on the caring role for elderly relatives, with many having to drop their hours again at a time when maybe their children have grown older. The caring responsibility switches from children to their parents!
And for so many of us divorce happens. Divorce is very complex when it comes to financial matters. And the area of pensions in divorce is still a very grey area. Absolutely it should be taken into consideration, but often it’s not. Women should ensure that money when you’re together is held in joint names or shared between both partners. Protect yourself from the possibility of the worst happening.
Divorce is very complex when it comes to financial matters.
I’m a real-life example of pensions in divorce. The financial settlement was based on the property equity only. I kept my pension, my ex-husband kept his, despite mine being five times higher. It was still deemed too small to take into consideration based on its future annual value.
This whole pattern of life is hugely generalised, and I recognise that life often follows a different route, but you can’t argue with the statistics based on real-life customer pension pots at PensionBee. Women have smaller pension pots than men. This isn’t right or fair.
I have a clear solution that could protect women’s pots
I would always recommend that women keep their pension contributions going whilst on maternity leave, but in reality, this is difficult, particularly when the maternity cover at full pay doesn’t last for long. Statutory maternity pay is low.
Whilst women are on maternity leave, the full-time working partner should make some pension contributions for their partner who may have had to stop or reduce their pension contributions. Rather than giving a birth present of a thing, gift a pension contribution instead. Rather than an expensive birthday or Christmas present, gift a pension contribution.
If one partner chooses to reduce their hours to part-time to spend time with the children, then the other partner should step up and cover the loss in pension contributions. Or maybe if there’s an annual bonus, some of this can be transferred into the part-time person’s pot. Women in this position, ask your partner and get that money transferred into your own personal pot!
Pensions are tricky for self-employed folk, particularly when building a business if profits and turnover is lower. I managed to start sporadic transfers into my pension pot after I had been trading for three years. In normal non-covid circumstances I transfer money into my pension pot via my company to save on corporation tax, depending on monthly turnover. I.e. a good month for turnover would mean a decent pension contribution. Not at the moment though, all my money just goes into my emergency funds pot to protect myself for the uncertainty of this year.
But remember if your partner runs a business where you might be set up on the payroll, they can absolutely make pension contributions for you. And bonus, this will save them some tax!
I’m incredibly passionate about women having financial freedom and to protect their financial futures. We never know what may lie in the future so this solution of transferring pension monies over to partners who’ve stepped out of work for a time is fair. And if divorce does occur, there might be less discussions over pensions as you’ll have already ensured that both parties have pension pots in their own names.
I’d love to know your thoughts. Have you done this before, either given or been given pension contributions? Do you even know your pension size compared to your partners? Maybe it’s time to take a look and address the balance.
Lynn Beattie is a PensionBee customer and CEO/Founder of Mrs Mummypenny, a personal finance website. She is also an ACMA management Accountant, previously working in commercial finance for Tesco, EE & HSBC. Lynn is a single mum to three boys, living in Hertfordshire, and is the author of ‘The Money Guide to Transform Your Life‘ published in September 2020.