Rebecca Huntley Columnist

Rebecca is a director of The Mind & Mood Report, an author and social commentator with a background in publishing, academia and politics. She holds degrees in law and film studies and a PhD in Gender Studies.

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No comfort in old men: Making super work for women

Published 30 April 2013 10:53, Updated 02 May 2013 00:45

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No comfort in old men: Making super work for women

Mark Bouris is right. Forgotten in the fight between the rich and the rest of us is the disadvantage to women in wealth matters.

There has been a lot of super and “class warfare” talk over the past few weeks. He of the TV looks and sharp suit, Mark Bouris, made an interesting point recently that with all the discussion about the rich versus the rest of us, a much bigger issue was missed: the disadvantage to women. He’s right.

There is no doubt that even today, women continue to rely on their partners’ earnings and decisions when it comes to their own retirement planning. A recent comment we heard was: “My husband deals with all the super and other investments we have because I wouldn’t know where to start. It’s always gone in through his work and he sorts it.” Often this is driven by the transition to child-rearing duties reducing the household to a single income for an extended period. It’s during this period that women keep paying fees despite being largely disengaged from their super investment. “I think it’s really unfair when you go out of the workforce to have kids and you’re not earning but the fees are still coming out,” is another comment I heard recently.

However, it’s as much about mindset as it is about available resources to invest. I see women (of all ages) in relationships who “outsource” economic management, particularly on future security issues, to their husbands, who are often bringing in the lion’s share of the family income. The women are responsible more for the day-to-day management of affairs, whereas the men are left with the big picture.

Bubbling just under the surface of discussions about super among women is a recognition that should separation or divorce happen, their financial position would be of real concern. “I have super but I haven’t added to it since I stopped working, so it’s something that I think, oh my gosh, I’m getting older. It worries me. It didn’t use to, but when I got the last statement I thought, this is no good.”

Since the GFC and the effect it had on super accounts, I’ve seen evidence of women re-engaging with the issue of super and retirement savings. We’ve had women in their 40s and 50s talk about how the GFC encouraged them to be more proactive and informed about their own money and investments. “They say that so many women don’t know how to look after themselves financially, but then when they don’t have a man, they can figure it all out. We need to get more educated and find out more.” “I used to be really frightened of superannuation and the share market. I had no understanding of it. Not one iota. I took myself with a girlfriend and we did a course with ASX and learnt a bit more about it and now I feel quite confident.”

This reinforces what we already know. We live longer than men so a man cannot be a retirement plan.

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