We all hear about the gender difference throughout our working life – but what about a gendered retirement?
Well turns out this gender issue extends well after we finish working. Why is this?
Women typically spend disproportionately more time on unpaid care work than men throughout their lives. Unpaid care work is seen as a female responsibility. Across all regions of the world, women spend on average between three and six hours on unpaid care activities, while men spend between half an hour and two hours. When Statistics New Zealand undertook an analysis of unpaid work, they found it was worth around $40 billion to the economy each year; women accounted for 64% of this worth ($25 billion).
However, as we get older the time spent on unpaid activity falls quite markedly and there is little difference in the participation of men and women. Helping non-household members is the most common form of unpaid work outside the home for both men and women in New Zealand. Women still spend twice as much time caring for people outside their household than men. Men undertake unpaid work mostly after retirement and do it outside of the home (i.e. not caring for family members), so they sacrifice less economically.
The unequal distribution of unpaid work over the life of women is a result of social pressures for women to meet domestic and reproductive roles. Women are also expected to participate in paid activities which results in a “double burden” for them. The bulk of women’s unpaid work involves caring for children and other family members and they do it during their working years (ages 25-45). The struggle for women to reconcile care responsibilities with paid employment can lead to “occupational downgrading”, where women choose employment below their skills level and accept poorer conditions
As a result of this, generally speaking, at the age of retirement women have less income from savings, investment or retirement schemes than men. One study of household wealth and savings in New Zealand shows that overall average net worth for women is about 86% of that of men. This ratio differs, however, by age, ethnicity, education, home ownership and family status.
Added to this is the fact that women live longer than men, so that whatever savings or investments they have need to be stretched over a longer period of time. This takes a toll on the quality of life for some women as they simply cannot afford to care for themselves.
What can be done?
This issue is one that won’t be solved overnight that’s for sure! It is going to take some big societal changes and a big overhaul in how we think and value the work women do. We need to come up with new ideas on how we can support women who do leave the workforce to raise a family or care for a loved one so that it does not negatively impact them economically as well as their professional working life when they chose to go back.