Improving women's lot in retirement

Improving women's lot in retirement

Whether Singaporeans have enough to retire on is a question that has loomed large in the minds of policymakers recently. The Government is helping the nation's ageing pioneers with health-care costs, and is working on a universal health- care plan for Singaporeans. Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates have been raised for all workers, with special attention to those who are older, earning less or self-employed.

There are also plans to enhance the CPF system's savings and annuity schemes and give Singaporeans more ways to unlock the value of their homes during retirement.

These are all laudable measures, especially amid low interest rates and rising inflation, which make it hard for retirees' savings to keep up with the cost of living.

But one group is still particularly vulnerable in retirement: older women, especially those who stopped work to care for children or other family members.

Yesterday, The Straits Times published a letter from the Association of Women for Action and Research that highlighted the plight of full-time housewives, calling for more help for "economically vulnerable groups".

On average, women here live longer than men, but work for shorter periods and earn less.

From age 25 to 29, nearly nine in 10 men and women are engaged in the workforce. For men, this proportion rises until age 54. In the case of women, however, it declines to the point where only seven in 10 remain in the workforce by age 54.

Women also earn only about three-quarters of what men do, an income gap that has stayed unchanged over the last 10 years. As a result, the average CPF balance of women has been consistently lower than that of men. As of 2011, women had an average of $56,000, while men had about $10,000 more than that.

To put this in perspective, the CPF Minimum Sum - which must be set aside for monthly retirement payouts - will rise to $155,000 in July, and rise again next year.

There is little data on the number of full-time mothers or caregivers in Singapore. But the Manpower Ministry's 2013 labour force report said two-thirds of all "economically inactive" residents - aged 15 and above but not working and not looking for a job - were women.

Forty-five per cent of the women in the ministry's survey cited family responsibilities as their main reason for not working, up from 43 per cent in 2012. In contrast, just 3 per cent of men stop work for family reasons.

This proportion is particularly high for non-working women between the prime working ages of 25 and 64, of which there are 329,400. Three in four stopped working because of family responsibilities. Those who do so often say they have little choice as hired caregivers provide inadequate service or are expensive. Their sacrifice comes at the expense of building up a nest egg, thus leaving many of them at risk of having insufficient savings for retirement.

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