Men and women age differently - the genetics, lifestyle, nutrition, psychologically, socially and the environment. And even the rate and way men and women age is also entirely different; including life expectancy. Plus, men and women are socially conditioned to take on different roles. They face different expectations and have distinct task lists throughout their life course. Hence a neutral policy applied across men and women while seems equitable, at a deeper level, it is not all that equal.
Applying the gender lens in this year’s Budget exercise suggests a positive trend and a greater appreciation that men and women should be affected differently by policies. In a commissioned study by Tsao Foundation on “Financial Security for Older Women: Perspectives from Southeast Asia”, the trend of women dropping out of the labour force in their mid-30s onward to assume the cultural and traditional role as the primary caregiver in the family - to their parents, spouse, children and siblings - remains mostly unchanged. Those who returned to the workforce tend to look for part-time work so that they can continue to care for the family. It disrupts their ability to earn and reduces their life savings in time to come. The demand for caregiving is also expected to increase as the population age trends continue to rise.
The study also spotlights the feminisation of ageing as Asia-Pacific will become one of the oldest regions in the world with an estimated 1.3 billion older persons in 2050. More than half of this will be women. And if they are the primary family caregivers, as they get older, who will care for them?
Even in the workforce, wage gaps exist between men and woman. While the issue is gradually being recognised by businesses and society, the impact of gender retirement savings gap, a long-term consequence of pay difference and unequal sharing of caregiving responsibilities, is still relatively underrated. As women live longer than men on average, without a change in the entrenched gender norms on work and caregiving, future cohorts of women may end up in poverty or financial insecurity at an older age. With Singapore families getting smaller and some caregivers remaining single as a result of family commitment, women may not be able to rely on families for financial support as they age.
While several caregiving measures such as the Home Caregiving Grant and Flexible Work Arrangement provides much relief to many, the government can consider doing more to help the women stays updated with relevant knowledge, skills and awareness of financial planning. For instance, increase public awareness on financial literacy tools such as Moneysense or run financial literacy education programmes across the country such as Citi-Tsao Financial Education programme which Tsao Foundation ran it for women aged between 40-60 years. The impact assessment from the programmed shows 79% of women are more prepared in the event of unexpected events compared to 48% before they attend the programme.
While the Bicentennial Bonus CPF top-up is commemorative this year, we hope that the government will continue to apply a gender lens to review and analyse policies to help our mother, sisters, daughters and many other women achieve their aspired quality of life and fulfilment.