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Debra Jopson

May 11, 2012

LILIAN GONZALEZ AT WORK IN A SCHOOLThe hidden poor … “a commercial cleaner aged 45 will, on average, have only the equivalent of one year’s salary saved in superannuation to tide her through her retirement”. Photo: Narelle Autio

WOMEN underestimate how long they will live by five years, leaving them vulnerable to their money running out in advanced old age, the latest research into people’s thinking about retirement funding shows.

And older men are more aware of the number of years they are likely to have to provide for retirement, the online survey of 920 people aged 50 to 74 showed, according to Hazel Bateman, the director of the centre for pensions and superannuation at the University of NSW.

The results, drawn from a broader five-year project by seven Sydney academics exploring how people make complex superannuation decisions, are still preliminary, but the leader of a separate study has warned the retirement income gap is worsening for women and low-paid workers.

”We will potentially make retirement one of the most unequal experiences in modern society,” said Mike Rafferty, senior research fellow at Sydney University business school’s workplace research centre.

The federal government’s decision to cap super top-ups at $25,000 for those aged over 50 in the budget has led to an outcry over the retirement income system which still discriminates against women because it is pay-based.

”The more you link outcomes to pay going through, the more different they will be.” Dr Rafferty said.

Dr Rafferty has run parallel studies of the retirement savings of cleaners, who are mostly women and security guards, mainly men.

A commercial cleaner aged 45 will, on average, have only the equivalent of one year’s salary saved in superannuation to tide her through her retirement when she turns 65 and will need to draw over three-quarters of her income from the age pension, the study found.

Using the actual balances of 38,000 cleaners provided by their superannuation fund, Dr Rafferty found the prospect for these workers of all ages was a retirement income so low they would all have to rely heavily on the public purse.

The 9000 security guards are set to fare better in retirement. A 45-year-old single security guard now has an average of $24,000 in superannuation and earns just over $50,000 a year, Dr Rafferty said.

This security guard would also have to rely on the age pension, but not nearly as much as the average cleaner of the same age, he said.

The average superannuation balance for a 45-year-old cleaner was about $14,000.

She had just 20 years to attempt to save a good superannuation balance so on retiring at 65 she could support herself for the 22 years more she could expect to live, Dr Rafferty said.

That task was so difficult, it was likely that many would be consigned to the ranks of the hidden poor, he said.

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