The gender gap in super is about to get worse with women withdrawing a more sizeable chunk of their savings than men because of COVID-19.

Is it helpful or is it a setback? The Federal Government’s early access to superannuation scheme is of critical importance to Australia’s most financially vulnerable, particularly women.

The short-term gains that come with being able to access $10,000 or even $20,000 cash this year are obvious. But longer-term there is a real risk that the scheme could widen the gender gap in retirement savings.

Analysis by AMP of its clients’ applications shows women are withdrawing less than men but when they do so it equates to a more sizeable chunk of their super balance.


AMP found that 14% of women are clearing out their entire super balance as a result of the withdrawals compared to 12% of men.

Lara Bourguignon, AMP’s Managing Director, Superannuation, Retirement and Platforms said that AMP’s analysis of early super withdrawals reflects the greater impact COVID-19 is having on female employment.

“70 % of workers in the health and social sectors are also women. These are lower income occupations which are at the front of the fight against COVID-19. Cleaners, teachers, child-care and aged care workers are predominantly women.

“We also know that more women have lost their jobs or had their work hours reduced as a result of COVID-19. They are doing it particularly tough at the moment and the early release scheme has been a vitally important initiative to help manage through the crisis.”

The government’s Treasury data reveals that as at May 11, almost 1.4 million people had accessed up to $10,000 of their superannuation and more than 463,000 of them were under the age of 30.

The March quarter Financy Women’s Index warned that the gender gap in superannuation is likely to face its first setback in many years if COVID-19 has a sustained impact on the employment trends of women. And this would be a major setback for the financial progress of women.

The ABS latest data shows that women retire with 31% less in their retirement savings than men from the 2017-18 financial year1.

The median superannuation account balance reported by the ABS for the 2017-18 financial year shows that the average woman eligible to receive super aged 15-75 years old had only $45,000 in her superannuation account while the average man (between 15 – 75 years) had $65,000 as of the 2017-18 financial year.

In the two years to June 2018, women saw their account balances grow by 11% compared to 5% for men helped by increased contributions and greater female work participation.

When you look at the mean superannuation balance, the average for women aged 15-75 years old had $121,000 in retirement savings compared to $168,500 for the equivalent average man in the 2017-18 financial year. This reflects 15% growth for women and 6% for men.

However, these improved growth rates in contributions could decline if we see a sustained and greater impact from COVID-19 on female employment and wages relative to men.

It’s important to note that about a quarter of women aged 15-64 years old don’t have any superannuation at all compared to about a fifth of men (23.5% versus 20.5%), according to ABS Gender Indicators data for the 2017–18 financial year2.

Young women and those over 55 years are more likely than any other age group to have no superannuation at all.

About half of 15 to 24 years have no superannuation at all and there is very little difference between the genders with 49.4% women and 50.3% men.

Of women aged 55-64-years old, 22.4% have no super compared to 16.3% men.

Bianca Hartge-Hazelman is a columnist on women's money matters and is the founding publisher of Financy and the Financy Women's Index. This article represents the views of the author only.

1 & 2. ABS, Gender Indicators, Australia, Nov 2019

COVID-19: My cash is starting to run out

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