New evidence of women's pension disadvantage

July 07, 2003

The government's current policy of allowing state pensions to decline, while increasing reliance on occupational and other private pensions, will perpetuate the disadvantage that women face in providing adequately for their retirement. That is the central conclusion of new ESRC-funded research by Dr Jay Ginn, Co-director of the Centre for Research on Ageing and Gender at the University of Surrey:

'Women's typical sequence of paid and unpaid roles over the course of their lives limits their ability to accumulate private pensions. At the same time, the levelling effect of state pensions is being eroded.'

Dr Ginn has used British survey data to examine how women's patterns of paid and unpaid work influence their chances of building an adequate private pension of their own - and how changing patterns of partnership and parenthood influence outcomes. The research shows that:The research prompts questions about the value of derived pensions versus independent entitlements. It suggests that the financial security of those who have devoted time to caring for their family is better protected by some form of carer credits than by rights based on legal marital status. But such protection can only be achieved through state pensions.

International comparisons reveal that the UK has a particularly harsh pension system for women, even among 'liberal', English-speaking welfare states, as the women-friendly features of state pensions introduced by Barbara Castle have been dismantled or rendered ineffective.

Women's disadvantage in accumulating private pensions is acknowledged in the government's Green Paper, Simplicity, Security and Choice: Working and Saving for Retirement, published last December. But no change in pension policy is proposed to remedy the situation.

Dr Ginn concludes that:

'Despite women's increased participation in employment, most cannot rely on private pensions to provide an adequate personal income in later life. Only improved state pensions with protection of caring periods, or alternatively a universal citizen's pension, can ensure that women's unpaid family care work does not lead to poverty and dependency in later life.'
For further information: Contact Dr Jay Ginn on 01483-300800 (work) or 01737-559341 (home) or email:
Or Lesley Lilley, Rachel Blackford or Anna Hinds at the ESRC on 01793-413119/413126/413122


1 The research project 'Gender, Employment and Pension Acquisition: Trends and International Comparisons' by Dr Jay Ginn was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

2 Dr Ginn is a Senior Research Fellow in the Sociology Department at the Surrey University and Co-director of the Centre for Research on Ageing and Gender. She is currently working at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies.

3 A new book based on this research, Gender, Pensions and the Lifecourse, is in press. Dr Ginn's previous books include Gender and Later Life (1991), Connecting Gender and Ageing (1995), both with Sara Arber, and Women, Work and Pensions (2001), with Debra Street and Sara Arber.

4 The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £76 million every year in social science and at any time is supporting some 2,000 researchers in academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences to nurture the researchers of tomorrow. More at

5. REGARD is the ESRC's database of research. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found

Economic & Social Research Council

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