Do women need to save more for retirement?

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NEW DELHI: If you are a 25-year-old working woman, retirement planning is probably the least of your priorities. Yet, it should be the topmost. Not just because it’s a crucial goal but also because you are a woman. Yes, you read that right. Being a woman puts you at a disadvantage when it comes to building a retirement corpus as you will need to save twice as much as a man.

If you are still dismissive about the premise because you plan to get married and, of course, you and your spouse can muster a big enough corpus, think again. There is a possibility that you may remain single, or the marriage may not work, or God forbid, you are widowed with children.

According to the 2011 Census, there were nearly 74 million single women in India—unmarried, divorced, separated and widowed—and there was a 39 percent increase in single women between 2001 and 2011. In such a case, you need to be proactive about handling your finances, especially retirement planning.

The three reasons you will need to save more than men are:

WOMEN EARN LESS: The gender pay gap is huge in India, with women earning 20 percent less than men, according to the Monster Salary Index (MSI). While men earn a median gross hourly salary of Rs 231, women earn only Rs 184.8. The pay gap also increases with experience: while men with up to two years’ experience earn 7.8 percent higher median wages, those with 11 or more years of experience get 25 percent more. Little wonder then that India ranked 108 on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017, while it was placed 136 out of 144 in terms of workplace gender gap.

What this means is that because women earn less, they will contribute less toward their savings. If a man earns Rs 40,000 a month and puts away 10 percent of this amount for retirement, he will save Rs 48,000 a year. On the other hand, a 20 percent lower salary means the woman will earn Rs 32,000 a month and will save only Rs 38,400 a year, resulting in a considerably depleted corpus.

WOMEN WORK FOR FEWER YEARS: Not only do women earn less, but they also work for fewer years because they usually take time off for childcare. On an average, they spend about seven years away from work, which means they are not saving during this period. Besides, the truncated work experience means that when, and if, they rejoin the workforce, they will start at much lower salaries than their male peers. This is usually only about 30 percent more than their last drawn salaries. It also means they qualify for lower retirement benefits.

HIGHER LIFE EXPECTANCY: Add to these the fact that women tend to live longer, with a life expectancy of 69.9 years at birth, compared with 66.9 years for men. At 60, when most Indians retire, life expectancy for men is 77.2 years and 78.6 for women. What this means is that the retirement corpus for women needs to be bigger than men so that it can last them longer. More importantly, the health-care costs see a sharp rise, resulting in a quick depletion of the corpus. So the financial fortification for women must be better, if not the same, as men.

What can women do to overcome these inequities and secure their retirement?

Save more: Women need to save at least twice as much as men. “Instead of 10 percent of their monthly incomes, they should save 20-25 percent for retirement,” says Financial Planner Pankaaj Maalde.

If it seems hard to do so in the initial years due to the temptation to spend, lock the investments through the ECS mandate to your bank account. Another option is to save more in the Provident Fund by opting for VPF (Voluntary Provident Fund) contribution with your employer, in addition to the EPF.

This will ensure that the money is deducted from your salary before it reaches your account. There is no 12 percent ceiling of mandatory contribution as with EPF and you can enjoy its tax-free status: tax deduction under Section 80C, no tax on interest or on the maturity proceeds.

Invest better: The best trick to save more, of course, is to invest smartly. “Get your asset allocation right. With a long time horizon, investing in debt is more dangerous than saving less,” says Maalde. So, retain a small portion of the debt, investing a larger percentage of equity instruments like equity or balanced mutual funds to ensure you get high returns over the long term. Also, make sure that you invest in line with your goal.

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