Women in Derry more vulnerable to demographically-driven policy change

Women in Derry are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of demographically-driven policy changes, according to new research published by the Northern Ireland Assembly's Research and Information Service.

Sarah McKenna, a researcher with the service, has examined how policy changes implemented to deal with our ageing population, combined with differing lifetime incomes and employment patterns, make older women susceptible to short-term poverty risk, later life disadvantage, and over reliance on state support.

Her report, entitled ‘Women’s Economic Transition to Retirement’, warns that “life expectancy in the UK as a whole, and in Northern Ireland in particular, is increasing”.

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“Fertility rates are declining and, as a result, the population is ageing at a rate that migration cannot mitigate.

“Women are at the forefront of demographic ageing as they live longer than men.

“This makes them particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of demographically driven policy change.

“Women face economic disadvantages in later life compared to men, predominantly caused by the effect of their family/care roles on their lifetime incomes and employment patterns,” warns Ms. McKenna.

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Derry women are both more likely to be carers than men, and, due to their longer life expectancy, are also more likely to be recipients of care.

“Women make up a larger proportion of those in receipt of late life care – much of which is financed by their already lower retirement income.

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“They are also the majority of those providing late life care.

“Low pay/no pay in late life care has implications for both the availability of social care, women’s retirement income, and the later life wellbeing of all.”

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Ms. McKenna also warns that while the North is the only area of the United Kingdom where the gender pay gap actually favours women this is due to the relatively larger size of the relatively better paying public sector which is vulnerable to cuts to state-spending.

“Northern Ireland bucks the national trend, with a full-time gender pay gap that favours women (-3.2%)

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“However, this results from their over-representation in the public sector, where budget cuts are likely to have the greatest impact.

“It also does not reflect their overall lower income, caused by higher part-time/casual employment levels and career breaks.”

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Ms. McKenna also reports that women here suffer a ‘motherhood penalty’, which reduces their later life income.

“In the UK, women who work full-time, but take a career break to raise their families, or move to flexible working arrangements, can suffer income and employment penalties for decades, caused by reduced training, development, and progression opportunities.

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“The more children they have the bigger the penalty. Women on higher incomes are affected the most, as a higher proportion of their retirement income comes from private pensions.

“These patterns are also reflected in Northern Ireland. This is commonly known as the ‘Motherhood Penalty’.”

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The research also points to the ‘Sandwich Generation’ phenomenon that results in women acting as unpaid carers for grandchildren and other family members after they have raised their own children.

“Family care extends beyond the child-rearing years. After raising their own children through their 20s, 30s, or 40s, women may find themselves acting as unpaid carers for grandchildren, and other family members, into their 50s, 60s and 70s.

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“This leaves little opportunity to save for retirement,” writes Ms. McKenna, who points that such women are less well-off as a result.