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The pension gap: Life expectancy means women need to save more for retirement

The pension gap between men and women is closing. But, once life expectancy is taken into consideration, women still need to save an extra £185,000 for retirement, on average, according to the Scottish Widows 2021 Women and Retirement report.

The report finds that young women in their 20s today can expect to have around £250,000 in their pension by the time they retire. For men, the figure is £100,000 higher at £350,000. On top of this, women are expected to live for longer and pay for the associated care costs of this, so they need to add a further £85,000 to be financially secure throughout retirement.

To reach this goal, women in their mid-20s today will need to save an extra £2,500 each year, or £210 a month, until they retire.

Jackie Leiper, managing director of workplace savings at Scottish Widows, said: “It’s well known that the gender pay gap has a damaging affect on women’s retirement prospects. But women face a double whammy: even if we close the pension savings gap, pension equality would still not be achieved, because women need to fund a longer retirement and spend more on associated care costs.”

One of the reasons highlighted for the pension gap is the gender pay gap. The median salary for a man is £31,400, for a woman, it’s £20,500. It means even if men and women contribute the same portion of their salary to a pension, women are much more likely to face financial insecurity in retirement. Taking control of your pension before you retire can help you achieve long-term goals and have confidence.

3 things women can do to improve their financial security in retirement

1. Don’t forget about your pension when taking a career break

One of the reasons women have smaller pension pots on average is because they’re more likely to take a career break. Whether to raise a family, care for elderly relatives, or another reason, this can affect your retirement plans.

It can be easy for pensions to slip your mind when you’re not working, as contributions will often be automatically deducted from your paycheque. But this doesn’t mean you have to stop adding to your pension when you’re not at work. You won’t benefit from employer contributions, but you will still receive tax relief to deliver a boost to the money you put in.

You can add pension contributions to suit you. This could mean setting up a direct debit to take a specified amount regularly or adding one-off sums when you can. This flexibility means you can stop and start pension contributions depending on your circumstances.

2. Boost your current pension contributions

The report also measures the proportion of men and women that are deemed to be saving adequately for their retirement. This is defined as those saving a minimum of 12% of their pensionable earnings into a pension. This figure compares to the minimum auto-enrolment contribution of 8%.

The good news is that the gap between men and women saving adequately for retirement has closed. 6 in 10 men and women are now found to be saving enough for a comfortable retirement. Yet, that means 4 in 10 could still face financial struggles when they retire.

If you have the means to do so, even a small increase in regular pension contributions can have a large impact. These contributions will benefit from tax relief and be invested with the goal of delivering long-term growth. Over a career, the effect of compounding means your pension contributions can grow significantly.

3. Have a clear target for your pension

While the report gives an idea of how much women need to save for retirement, it can vary a lot for different people. If you’re still working, retirement can seem like a long way off, but thinking about your plans now can help you set a clear target and give you confidence that you’re on track. Answering questions like the below can help build an accurate pension target that’s right for you.

  • At what age would you like to retire?
  • Do you want to transition into retirement?
  • What kind of retirement lifestyle would you like?
  • What will your financial commitments be?

By taking this information, along with areas like life expectancy and expected investment growth into consideration, you can better understand if the steps you’re taking now will mean you can reach your retirement goals.

Getting to grips with your pension can be challenging. If you’re not sure where to start, we’re here to help you. Whether you’re still working or are ready to retire, we can offer advice and guidance to help you make the most of your pension contributions.

Please note: This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

A pension is a long-term investment not normally accessible until 55 (57 from April 2028). The fund value may fluctuate and can go down, which would have an impact on the level of pension benefits available. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results.

The tax implications of pension withdrawals will be based on your individual circumstances. Thresholds, percentage rates and tax legislation may change in subsequent Finance Acts.