NZ's gender retirement gap: How do we bridge it?

6 min read
8 March, 2021

New Zealand has taken great strides in the fight for gender equality. We’re seeing more women in board rooms, in Government and leadership roles. In 2000, the gender pay gap was 16.7%; today it’s 9.5%.

But there’s still a lot of work to do if true equality is to be achieved.

As it currently stands, we are less financially well off in retirement, are paid less overall and - according to the data - aren’t as financially literate as our male counterparts.

We take a look at where we’re at, and how much further we have to go to improve the financial wellbeing of our wāhine.  

Some quick stats on women and money in New Zealand

  • Kiwi women live longer than men (StatsNZ)
  • Kiwi women have lower average KiwiSaver balances than men (StatsNZ)
  • The gender pay gap in New Zealand is 9.5% (StatsNZ)
  • Women are more likely to take time out of the workforce to raise children and elderly relatives (Retirement Commission)
  • Women have a lower financial knowledge than men (Retirement Commission)
  • Kiwi women are more likely to be the victims of financial abuse in relationships (AUT)

Let’s delve a little deeper into some of these stats and find out how much further we need to go to close the gender gap when it comes to retirement and the financial wellbeing of wāhine in Aotearoa.

Women live longer but retire with less

This probably comes as no surprise; the fact that women outlive their male counterparts is a relatively well-known fact. While this gives us more time to save money over our lifetime, our longer lifespan is a double-edged sword.

Living longer means we can expect to spend longer in retirement. As a result, we require more retirement savings to lead a comfortable post-working life.

However, women in Aotearoa still have much lower KiwiSaver balances. Data from StatsNZ reveals that men have higher median KiwiSaver values than women across all age groups, except for the 15–24 bracket.

Our KiwiSaver 2050 report acknowledges that “women are contributing less to KiwiSaver, have lower average balances, and are less likely to have other investments” – so it’s not just our KiwiSaver balances that are lower, but our investments overall.

Female entrepreneur Financial Services Council New Zealand
Photo by BBH Singapore on Unsplash

There are several complex factors at play here.

Of course, there are the obvious ones we’ve already mentioned: like the gender pay gap, longer life expectancy and breaks in workplace participation that can occur as the result of having children.

But there are also a range of what The Ministry for Women calls “unexplained factors”, such as conscious and unconscious bias, choices and behaviours, which they believe drives 80% of the gender pay gap in New Zealand.

The gender pay gap in Aotearoa is currently 9.5%. Not only are women still paid less than men, but more of them are working part time – a third, The Ministry of Women estimates.

Māori and Pacific women on average receive lower rates of pay than both men and women of other ethnicities, so there’s certainly a broader conversation to be had here.

One common perception surrounding the gender pay gap is that it’s a result of women being less likely to ask for pay rises. Interestingly, research from across the ditch found that women do ask for pay rises, but they get rejected more often.

Women who asked got a raise 15% of the time, while men obtained a pay increase 20% of the time. Clearly, it’s not that we’re not asking; we’re also not getting when we do ask.

We are also more likely to suffer from financial abuse in relationships, something that AUT researcher Dr Ayesha Scott has delved into in her research. Financial abuse, sometimes also called economic harm, is when someone uses financial resources to control and terrorise another person, and it happens most commonly in intimate relationships.

While not always perpetrated by men, women are more often the victims of financial abuse, and so are disproportionately impacted by its consequences. Episode 4 of Money and You delves into this a little more: 


Good Shepherd has some resources around this topic, along with contact details of organisations offering support to those experiencing financial abuse.  

Another obstacle to financial wellbeing for Kiwi women is our financial know-how. The Retirement Commission found that in general, we have a lower financial knowledge than men. An interview with Kate McCallum and Julia Newbould touches on the reasons why there's a bit of a knowledge gap - and it clearly has nothing to do with a lack of smarts. 

According to Julia “'s not just the jargon but it's the way that women engage with their money that's also quite different."

"We feel that women don't talk about money as a discrete item, it's about the lifestyle that they want to achieve. It's about buying the house that they want to, sending their children to private schools or living with holidays or whatever it is, but it's not just about money."

"When you converse with a woman typically about money, it's a more holistic conversation.”

Asset 3@4x

"Women don't talk about money as a discrete item, it's about the lifestyle that they want to achieve."

Julia Newbould


Watch this snippet from our interview with Kate and Julia, where they talk about the challenges facing women from a financial perspective and how much work is still to be done:


How much further do we need to go?

The financial literacy issue will improve tremendously if the information is communicated in a more accessible way.

As Julia Newbould acknowledged in the interview linked above, for women, money is a more holistic conversation. In other words, it’s not just about how much you make, it’s about the kind of life it can help you build. If we want to improve the financial literacy of New Zealanders – and women in particular – then we as an industry need to start adapting to their needs.

And we are definitely making strides.

At the FSC, we’re working to do this through a focus on educational content that helps engage and inspire more Kiwis to improve their financial wellbeing. Money and You is a great starting point for all Kiwis to equip themselves with the tools and knowledge to empower their financial lives. 

The Sorted at Work programme includes Sorted Women, a two-hour workshop designed and delivered by women for women, aiming to boost their financial wellbeing.

There are also many amazing women out there who are breaking down accessibility barriers and making things like investing, KiwiSaver and personal finance more engaging for women – and for New Zealanders in general.

Frances Cook of the Cooking the Books podcast uses her personal experience with money to help educate others (not just women) about how to be smarter with their money. Female founders of platforms like Hatch and Sharesies are changing the game by making investing easier not just for women but for all New Zealanders.

More diverse voices in the financial services industry means more accessible information and greater understanding as a result. We are breaking down barriers and will continue to do so in years to come.

If you’re interested in these kinds of conversations, the panelists at our Women In Super session at the 2020 Generations conference is a really engaging discussion. Three exceptional women of different generations – Jane Wrightson, Retirement Commissioner, Sonya Williams, Queens Young Leader and Co-Founder of Sharesies, and Alexia Hilbertidou, Founder of Girlboss – discuss their personal experiences with money and some of the issues surrounding women and retirement:


This information is general information only. It is not intended to constitute financial advice and does not take your individual circumstances and financial situation into account. We encourage you to seek assistance from a trusted financial adviser or other professional advice. 

The links that are provided are additional resources that you access at your own risk and the FSC takes no responsibility for any third party content. 

The FSC and its employees make no express or implied representations or give any warranties regarding this information and we accept no responsibility for any loss, damage, cost, or expense (whether direct or indirect) incurred by you as a result of any error, omission, or misrepresentation in this information.

8 March 2021. 

Subscribe to our blog