Gender Inequality in First Pillar Pensions in 6 EU Countries: Germany, Sweden, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain
The data come from the newly released version of SHARE (wave 5, release 1.0: 2015) and use a measure of pension amounts that include only work-related public retirement benefits, old age benefits and/or survivor’s benefits. All persons are 70 years of age and older and receive no income from employment or self-employment.
In all six countries, France, Germany, Spain, Italy Belgium and Sweden, married women have substantially lower first pillar pension benefits than married men (not married to each other). In all cases the difference is statistically significant. For example the median pension amount for married Belgian men is 18,000 euro while the median pension amount for married Belgian women is 13,200; the comparable amounts in Sweden are 17,995 euro for married men and 12,735 euro for married women.
While a significant gender gap between married men and married women (not married to each other) exists in each country, this gap is not so critical in terms of total household income. Women in married person households are typically financially secure in spite of their low pension levels. This level of difference in income between partners, however, may result in a significant power difference and less control. Married women may be at a disadvantage in decisions concerning their own expenses, especially relating to their own health and personal care needs.
It is among the widowed where the gender gap becomes more critical because of the reduction of household income and the loss of economies of scale. Women are best protected by survivor benefits in Belgium where there is no statistically significant difference between the pension amounts for widows in comparison with widowers. In all of the other countries the widower’s pension is significantly greater than the widows. In Sweden, widowed women’s median pension is 14,793 euros in comparisons to widower’s median pension of 18,315 euros. Sweden has stopped providing survivor benefits; other countries in the study are proposing or have enacted a reduction in widow’s survivor benefits. This approach then reproduces gender inequality in terms of wages and lifetime earnings. But the consequences are even more severe because widows over age 70 outnumber widowers by a large margin and widows are more likely to be disabled than widowers of the same age.