Women in European Union countries receive pensions which are 39% lower on average than men, according to research published by the European Commission yesterday.
In its first report on the 'gender gap' in pensions, the commission found that the difference between the amount women and men receive from state and workplace pensions combined was more than twice the 16% gap between men's and women's average pay.
The gender gap in pensions in the EU attributed the difference in pension income to the fact that women are less likely to be employment than men. Women also tend to work fewer hours and/or years and receive lower wages on average.
Marriage and motherhood were found to increase the gender pension gap. Single women, by contrast, faced a narrower pension gap than the average at 17%. The more children women had, the lower their retirement income was likely to be, the report noted.
Of the 27 EU member states, 17 have pension gaps of 30% or more, with the widest gender divides found in Luxembourg (47%) and Germany (44%). Estonia had the lowest gap between men and women's pension incomes at just 4%, followed by Slovakia (8%).
The commission noted, however, that the country-specific situation did now always reflect gender differences in pay, with Estonia recording the largest income disparities among working-age men and women.
It warned that women who found they had become increasingly economically independent during their working lives might find the pension system 'unfamiliar, anachronistic and limiting' due to it being based on dependence on men.
'What has been gained for gender balance in the labour market may be reversed in pensions,' the report explained. 'The worrying fact is that we are only gradually forming an opinion as to whether this fear is unfounded or not.'
In particular, the commission highlighted a 'lack of visibility' of the pension gap. 'The report uncovered wide gaps in most countries, but also their overwhelming complexity. The hope that improvements in pay gaps will necessarily percolate through to pensions is unfounded.'
The EU should play a decisive role in placing the pensions gender gap on the policy agenda and encouraging national initiatives that can address the issue, it said.