Tina Wu

The gender pay gap in superannuation may be another symptom of the overarching issue of gender inequality in the workforce and society failing to accommodate women who choose to have children.

This issue is highlighted clearly with statistics revealing that the average super balance for women being $150,000 less than the average for men.

“Several factors are contributing to women’s lower super balances,” says Dr Martin Fahy, CEO of the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia. “Women take time out of the paid workforce to have children and are more likely to care for family members.

“They are also more likely to be in part time or lower paid employment. Women, on average, earn lower wages compared to their male counterparts and this is then reflected in their super balances.”

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the weekly wage for women is 15.3 per cent less than their male counterparts with the average full-time earnings for women being $1387.19 per week compared to the earnings of $1,638.30 for men.

This fundamental gap in weekly wages can be attributed to a number of reasons, the most common of them being gender discrimination in the workplace and the impact of motherhood on a woman’s career progression.

In fact, employers are not required to provide superannuation funds when paying for parental leave. Despite the maximum of 18 weeks for paid parental leave, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) recorded that the average length of maternity leave was 32 weeks in 2011, contributing directly to the super pay gap.

Gender discrimination in the workforce plays a dominant role in perpetuating the super disparity as well. The ABS found that 34.1 per cent of women missed out on opportunities for promotion while they were pregnant, among other forms of discrimination.

One of the main factors contributing to a mother’s return to the workforce, and therefore receiving super, is also the ability to find affordable childcare. This, coupled with other underlying concerns regarding gender wage gaps, places pressure on the government to provide the necessary benefits for families and their children in order to ensure that women continue to contribute to the Australian labour force and subsequently lower the super gap between men and women.