Media Release

Government should pay into pensions for mothers and carers

The Government should pay public money into the personal pensions of women who take time out of work to care for children or elderly relatives, a think-tank says today.

The Social Market Foundation said that without significant new support for women’s pensions, increasing lifespans will widen economic gaps between the sexes and see women’s wealth falling further behind men.

Longer lives could amplify existing differences between male and female earnings and savings, the SMF said, warning that without early intervention, changes in longevity could set back progress towards economic equality between the sexes.

The SMF made the warning ahead of publishing “Gender equality and the 100-year life”, the second in a series of reports supported by AIG that address the public policy challenges raised by rising longevity.

The report also reveals new polling evidence, showing that people still overwhelmingly expect women to bear most of the burden of looking after children and elderly relatives.  For instance, 27% would expect a brother to care for elderly family, but 34% say a sister should do so.

Time away from work for family duties often leads to lower earnings. In the report, the SMF showed that five years after graduation, men’s median wages are £3,600 higher than female graduates’. Ten years after graduation this figure rises to £8,400.[i]

Lower wages over the rest of a woman’s life also means lower pensions savings.  Women in their late 50s typically have around half the pension savings of men the same age.

“As people retire later, the length of time in work will increase and wage disparities may continue to increase. This has the potential to deepen the divide between the financial position of men and women during and after their working lives,” the SMF warned.

To stop the gap widening, the Government should consider paying into the pension pots of women who take time out of work to care. “Taking time out of the labour market to raise children or care for relatives is one of the key causes of the pension gap. Addressing the lack of pension accumulation during this period is essential if we are to close – or even narrow – the gap in pension savings between men and women.”

In 2016, the ONS estimated that a woman on maternity leave carries out weekly unpaid work with an economic value of £762.75, well above the average regular weekly wage.  Appling the current 3% minimum contribution rates from automatic enrolment pensions schemes to such a value would mean a new Government contribution of £22.88 per week, or £1189.89 per year, to that woman’s pension pot.

The report also reveals new polling showing that despite progress towards equality, social attitudes that put pressure on women to reduce work and provide care remain deep-rooted.

Among the highlights from the Opinium polling shows that: 

  • Only 32% of men said they felt people expected them to care for older parents.   37% of women felt they were expected to do so.
  • 34% said they would expect a sister to help care for older parents, but only 27% said the same about a brother.
  • Men over-estimate the time they spend on childcare. 37% of men aged 35 to 54 said they share caring duties equally with their partner. Only 20% of women in the same age group said the same.
  • While a more equal distribution of work and care between men and women would help address the wage and pension gap, many men believe they do not have the option of working part-time in order to provide care. One third of men (33%) said they believed that their request for flexible working to care for a partner or relative would be turned down, compared to just over a quarter of women (27%) who said the same.

Kathryn Petrie, SMF Chief Economist said:

“Rising lifespans are a good thing, but if we don’t have the right policies to respond, they could amplify financial differences between men and women.  We should celebrate the 100-year-life but also accept that it has the potential to deepen the divide between the financial position of men and women during, and after, their working lives.

“To prevent the pension gap widening further, the government should consider contributing directly to the pension pots of individuals who take time out of the labour market to have children or to care for family members.  

“For all the strides we’ve made towards equality, social attitudes that push women to give up work to care for children and parents remain strong. As well as trying to give women and men more flexibility and choices, government policies should do more to help women with the financial implications of taking time out of work.”


In a poll for AIG Life’s 100 Year Life project, Opinium conducted a nationally representative poll of 3,001 adults between 23rd and 28th May 2019.

The SMF report was kindly supported by AIG Life, the UK life insurance arm of AIG.  The SMF, a registered charity, retains editorial independence over all its publications and discloses all its sources of funding.
For more information or to arrange an interview, contact the SMF:

The report Gender equality and the 100-year life will be published on at 7am on Monday 28 October 2019.


For more information or to arrange an interview, contact the SMF on 020 7222 7060

Barbara Lambert, SMF media officer: and 020 7222 7060

James Kirkup, SMF director:

About the SMF:

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) is a non-partisan think tank. We believe that fair markets, complemented by open public services, increase prosperity and help people to live well. We conduct research and run events looking at a wide range of economic and social policy areas, focusing on economic prosperity, public services and consumer markets.  The SMF is resolutely independent, and the range of backgrounds and opinions among our staff, trustees and advisory board reflects this.

The SMF retains complete editorial independence of its publications.

[i] Department for Education, Graduate Outcomes (LEO); Employment and earnings outcomes of higher education graduates by subject studies and graduate characteristics in 2016/17 (2019)


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