Men should contribute to their partner's KiwiSaver account when women take time out of paid work to care for family if the family can afford it, experts say. The recommendation was one solution raised at a forum last week on "the high-cost chromosome" - women's retirement savings and the challenges they face with lower earnings, time out of the workforce and living longer. KiwiSaver data from ANZ Bank - the country's largest KiwiSaver provider - shows there is already an average balance difference of 22 per cent between men and women and when projected out to age 65 it rises to 37 per cent. Laura Abba, ANZ's head of product service and customer experience, told attendees of the forum, a woman who takes five years out of the workforce between the age of 30 and 35 would have around $50k less in their savings by age 65. It had also found women were also much more risk adverse with their savings with a survey showing just 10 per cent of women were happy to have some degree of volatility in their savings. Of its women members 35 per cent had their money in a conservative KiwiSaver fund versus less than 30 per cent of its male KiwiSaver members. Abba said a person earning $35k a year would be $90k worse off if they stayed in a conservative KiwiSaver fund for their entire working life. Susan St John, director of the Retirement Policy and Research Centre and associate professor at Auckland University which organised the forum, said KiwiSaver appeared to be encouraging a gender disparity. "It is exactly what they see in Australia." The median balance last year for men was A$100,000 compared to A$28,000 for women. St John said New Zealand had very high coverage of the population for KiwiSaver -around 2.6 million people were members - but women were also more likely to put their contributions on hold. She said continuing to contribute to KiwiSaver while a woman was out of the workforce was one way to help close the gap. "If they can continue to contribute in one way or another - either by earning part-time or through the household - then it is the best investment you can make because you have a 50 per cent return. "But I can understand why it doesn't happen. There are too many calls on money for today." St John speaks from experience. She quit her job as a teacher and cashed in her superannuation to help start a family taking 10 years out of the workforce to have four children. When she came back to work she was told she didn't need to start saving for her retirement again because she was married. She later got divorced. She estimates she probably lost 20 years of retirement saving as a result - a big hit on her savings. But even still she said she was priveledged compared to many and it was poorer women she had greater concerns for.
"It think it probably depends on the relationship they are in. For a lot of women it would be quite hard.While men with higher incomes were more likely to be able to afford to keep paying into the woman's KiwiSaver account while not working it did not help low-paid families or solo parents.
It doesn't help those on a lower income.St John said any changes made to policy to help counter the gender disparity should be made following in-depth research. And she cautioned women to be aware of possible within gender imbalances that could arise Sharon Giblett, a financial adviser, who also spoke at the forum said that for a lot of women it could be quite hard to talk to their other half about putting money into their KiwiSaver account while not working. "It think it probably depends on the relationship they are in. For a lot of women it would be quite hard." She said men should view it as a way to help the woman in their lives. But she said for a lot of people the decision would come back to affordability.