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Gender Gap
A fundamental weakness in Australia's superannuation system is the glaring gap between the super savings of men and women.

The recently released ABS Survey of Income and Housing shows that the average super balance for men was $71,645 in 2009-10 against $40,475 for women. And the average balance at retirement was $198,000 for men against $112,600 for women.

However, the gender gap is somewhat narrower than a few years ago. ABS figures indicate that the average balance for men in 2003-04 was $56,400 compared with $23,900 for women.

The reasons for the difference in retirement savings are only too clear.

Women have lower average salaries than men, often interrupt their careers to raise children, and their finances can be particularly hard hit by marriage breakdown. And on average, women retire at a younger age than men - yet have longer life expectancies.

Indeed, a powerful argument can be mounted for why women need more super savings than men - not much less.

It is crucial to keep reinforcing the message that women should take every opportunity to maximise their retirement savings. For instance, ASIC's personal finance site MoneySmart is currently urging women to become more informed about superannuation.

MoneySmart focuses on such basics as making salary-sacrificed contributions, making after-tax or non-concessional contributions (with eligible low-income earners receiving Government co-contributions) and simply tracking down lost super.

Some financial planners suggest that women intending to take a break from the workforce try to increase their salary-sacrificed contributions in order to build up extra savings before leaving their jobs. And some working spouses make spouse contributions into their wives' super accounts to help boost the balances during any time out of the workforce.

By Robin Bowerman
Smart Investing
Principal & Head of Retail, Vanguard Investments Australia
10th October 2011