The following Q&A with myself (on behalf of Simplicity KiwiSaver) and Women's Weekly NZ is reprinted below with permission.
In New Zealand, are there still inequities for women in the workforce?
Women still have a way to go to reach equity here and elsewhere in the world. Only last month, female CEOs finally outnumbered CEOs with the first name John among S&P 500 companies (the leading publicly traded companies in the US), according to a new analysis from Bloomberg. In many sectors, women are still paid less than their male counterparts, with the average gender pay gap in NZ in 2022 at 9.2% overall based on statistics provided by the NZ government. The pay gaps for Ma¯ori, Pacific and other ethnicities are wider than for European women.
What is the child premium?
The child premium refers to the career and economic costs of having a child. It’s a multi-factorial impairment that includes loss of income, reduced retirement savings, limited career progression, wage gap discrimination, dependency on partner income and childcare expenses. Oh, and unless you have a cleaner, research still shows women do most of the household work for free. So, there’s that too. Although there are protections now to ensure that women who take breaks to have kids aren’t professionally disadvantaged, women still face challenges.
What can I do about it?
In the last two columns, we discussed the importance of negotiating your worth and having your KiwiSaver scheme set up correctly for your personal needs and goals. Both are very important. They should teach this at school so women entering the workforce start off on the right foot, armed with the knowledge of how to build wealth effectively. When it comes to having children, one size does not fit all. Career priorities, ambitions and commitments differ. Regardless of how long your maternity leave is and whether you decide to return to a full-time, part-time or hybrid work arrangement, it’s good to have a game plan, ideally with your partner (if applicable). Also, don’t emotionalise your decision to have children with your employer. Just demonstrate that you can continue to do a great job but in the configuration that suits your new life too.
What kind of impact can the child premium have on my KiwiSaver?
Retirement Commission data shows that on average, women in their 40s had 30% less in KiwiSaver funds than men in the same age group. The longer you’re out of the workforce, the worse that gap may become. If you go back part-time, that could also impact your savings too. If you plan to have kids in a few years and can afford it, consider a higher KiwiSaver contribution rate before having a baby. Stock the war chest while you can. This could provide more for a first-home deposit or mean more savings in retirement.
What is the best way to navigate the child premium?
Find out the maternity policy at your workplace and investigate some of the others out there. Use it as leverage. There is a registry called Gocrayon.com where you can see what New Zealand employers are offering. After the baby is born, ensure you continue to pay into your KiwiSaver account. Make sure you contribute at least $1043 each year (to June 30) to qualify for the full Government contribution of $521. On a positive note, the Government has just announced it will match KiwiSaver employer contributions during the 26 weeks of paid parental leave. You can also elect to get a portion of your paid parental leave put into your KiwiSaver scheme. Use the projection tools on Sorted.org.nz (or your provider’s website) to see the effect of regular contributions over time. Check your fund type too. The type of fund you’re invested in can make a big difference over the long-term.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Teach your kids early how to do their own laundry; don’t sacrifice time that you know makes you a happier, saner and healthier human; get help where you need it; give up on perfectionism and keep your priorities straight.
THE INFORMATION PROVIDED AND OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE INTENDED FOR GENERAL GUIDANCE AND ARE NOT FINANCIAL ADVICE OR A RECOMMENDATION.
‘You can elect to get a portion of your paid parental leave put into your KiwiSaver scheme’
Comparisons between New Zealand and Australia usually don't end well. It's the same with those involving the United States and Canada. Feelings get hurt. Conversation descends quickly.
Here's hoping the end justify the means; in this case super comparisons with our Antipodean neighbour sparks positive change.
I was originally going to write about the growing drift between the balances of men and women in KiwiSaver, based on recent reports the increase jumped from 20% to 25% in one year. When I looked a little closer at the actual balance differences by age, I became triggered. Then doubly so after seeing how the numbers stack up across the Tasman.
For Kiwi men aged 18-25, the average is $8,694 compared to $7,099 for women. That was in 2022.
The difference is bigger yet again between 31-35; $21,535 for men and $16,985 for women and by their early 40s, $36,114 vs $27,269.
The Retirement Commission, who contracted the KiwiSaver data mining, said it had ruled out hardship withdrawals, savings suspensions and first home withdrawals from the equation. The inference was that contribution rates differences (which it doesn't have clear transparency over) are behind the yawning gap. The other obvious explanations are more women than men work in part-time jobs, pay inequity across many sectors, and women taking time out of the workforce to raise families. All that combined serves to pull down our balances, compared to men.
Bridging the gap
The superannuation gender gap is increasingly getting the attention of policy makers both here and across the Tasman. During its most recent Budget announcement, the NZ Government announced an employer KiwiSaver contribution top-up to Paid Parental Leave. It'll help at the margins but it certainly won't fix the problem.
Whether you're male or female, the savings are still well below what retirement experts predict you'll need to retire comfortably. By 65, even a no-frills retirement, assuming you want to live in either Wellington, Chch or Auckland, will require around $300k in your KiwiSaver. The average balance in 2022, for those over 65 in KiwiSaver, was only $51k.
When you compare balances with our Aussie counterparts, there's a continental divide.
According to research by Deloitte, for Australia Super, the average balances of Aussie men, age 45-49 is north of $224k (AUD).
Women, comparatively, are left in the dust at around $146k.
Similar factors explain the gender super gap in Australia, according to government policy papers on the subject.
The shock and horror isn't so much around the gender balance differences, although I admit, it does not thrill me.
What is more stupefying is just how much bigger average balances are in Australia.
Before taking into account currency differences, Australian women in their mid 40s, have almost 4.5 x as much in their Superannuation accounts as Kiwi women.
I doubt our Australian sisters are happy they're lagging so far behind their male counterparts, but if they saw our puny balances here they'd been feeling very rich indeed. KiwiSaver balances for women aged 41-45 are $27,269.
Let's clarify a few things.
Australians have been at this savings game a lot longer than New Zealanders.
The Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act came into force around 1992, forcing employers by law to contribute into their employees schemes. KiwiSaver was only introduced in 2007.
To be fair (to us), Australians have had a huge head start in terms of education, savings and retirement planning psychology. It's also compulsory.
In New Zealand, employees are auto-enrolled into KiwiSaver when they start their first job. If they don't want to commit, they can opt-out within three months.
In Australia, employers make contributions to their employees’ accounts as a proportion of wages or salaries. The contribution rate increased from 10.5% to 11% (of wages/salaries) on 1 July 2023, and is scheduled to rise by a further 0.5% each year until it reaches 12% (on 1 July 2025)
You can see the full rates chart here at the Australia Taxation Office.
Compare that to New Zealand where there is a minimum 3% paid by employees and a minimum 3% by the employer. The Retirement Commission found that 2/3 of KiwiSavers still only pay the minimum of 3%. Also of note, is that 41% of the 2.9 million KiwiSavers have balances worth $10,000 or less!
It's no secret that many jobs in Australia pay more than they do in New Zealand so that also accounts for higher balances over time. Unlike New Zealand, you can't use your savings in Australia as a deposit on a first home. Not yet anyway.
It's all quite depressing I admit but I've never known Kiwis to let Australian comparisons get the better of them, for anything.
Ask yourself if you have the ability to contribute a higher amount. Use Sorted.org.nz's KiwiSaver calculator to see what a difference a 4, 6, 8, or 10% contribution rate could make over time.
If you're a woman, make sure you're being paid equitably for your work and take salary negotiations more seriously.
On a somewhat happier note, women who end up living into their 80s, will finally overtake men in the KiwiSaver department. The same data set quoted above found that females age 86+, had average balances of close to $227k, compared to men with half that.
I'm guessing this has to do with the fact that they outlive men on average, and are usually the beneficiaries of a deceased spouse's wealth, including their KiwiSaver.
Still, I'm not counting on the long game. You?
I was asked recently how I defined success?
It was harder to answer than I expected because my definition of success seems to change with every milestone I achieve.
I don't think I'm unique in this regard.
Life is dynamic and we move through ages and stages over a lifetime. Our perception, expectations and definitions of success inevitably evolve
I have read countless profiles of accomplished actors and other professionals who've made their 'fortune' and fame who say if they had their time again, they'd focus more on their families and friends. That is to say, they define success as having good relationships with those closest to them. Hindsight is a wonder, ain't it?
It's easy to have perfect vision once you've scaled the highest mountain.
Success, in a classical sense, is marked by wealth, fame, power and status. It is usually hard won and takes years to accomplish. Hence the sacrifices, and the revisionism later on about what success is.
In the interim, those focussed purely on money, need to ask themselves how much?
If we can learn from those who've made a lot of it, it is helpful to understand money in the context of what it can and can't buy.
If we accept, that after a certain amount, more money is not going to add to your happiness threshold, it's best to know when to stop pursuing it so aggressively. Because to do so, (chasing it for the sake of it) is often at the detriment of one's health, or personal relationships.
Having a goal or a number in mind, and a plan to get there, is a pragmatic wealth creation strategy. It removes the fuzzy fantasy of happily ever after once you've banked a million bucks.
I think it is better by far to flip the equation and actively explore and pursue what it is that makes you happy, occupationally and otherwise, then set up a financial plan that is congruent with your goals. It's also more realistic for the masses.
This approach is not without its own hazards because it forces one to dig deep. Let's be honest; sometimes it's easier to follow others peoples' expectations of us, or follow the road we happen to have landed on, rather than search our soul.
Sometimes we fall into a trap of what is convenient at the time, rather than what is truly meaningful and important.
It's understandable too. We are not taught to follow our bliss. I know I wasn't anyway.
Life doesn't follow a simple, linear path. It is usually through struggle, disappointment, conflict and resistance that we are forced to confront those deeper, scarier questions in life.
The reward for doing so can be both liberating and meaningful.
So, you wanna be rich?
Great! Before you seek your riches, make sure you understand why and try to quantify that wealth too.
The pursuit of it will be all the easier. Or perhaps just a few less regrets will come of it.
Amanda is a personal finance specialist and published author based in Auckland, New Zealand. She is also a certified meditation and yoga instructor which informs her teachings on financial wellness.