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Australian women and younger workers urged to consider rebuilding their super savings

Australian women and younger workers are among those who need to kickstart rebuilding their superannuation and retirement savings as the economy recovers after Australians withdrew more than $36 billion in early super release payments in 2020. 

New research from Colonial First State (CFS) show its members aged under 30 took almost one-third of all early super release payments during the Coronavirus pandemic last year, while women’s super balances fell further behind men, widening the gender super gap to 18 per cent. 

According to data analysed in CFS’s research series, Retirement Realities, one of the largest reviews to date of the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on Australians’ retirement savings, CFS members withdrew almost $1.5 billion in early super release payments from 20 April to 31 December 2020. A majority of those (41 per cent) who withdrew super through the early release scheme, are yet to start rebuilding their superannuation savings. 

The research found that the largest number of early super payments were made to those under the age of 40 (65 per cent), with members under 30 receiving nearly one-third of all early release payments (29 per cent). Additionally, 1 per cent of recipients were based overseas (in the UK, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the US). 

However, of those who accessed their super early, more than half (59 per cent) had a contribution paid to their superannuation account during 2020, mostly from their employer as a super guarantee payment. This was followed by government contributions (14 per cent), with a smaller number (4 per cent), making personal or salary sacrifice contributions. 

The data also highlighted that a majority of additional contributions were made by pre-retirees aged 50-64 years (60 per cent of the total value of voluntary contributions), followed by retirees aged 65+ (31 per cent).

Colonial First State General Manager, Kelly Power, said: “We supported measures the Government put in place last year to help Australians. We’ve seen firsthand how the pandemic has impacted some of our members.

“The early release scheme has been a vitally important initiative to help Australians deal with the pandemic and cover basic expenses, including those living overseas, or unable to get back to Australia.

“We are now encouraging Australians to consider a plan to rebuild their nesteggs and replenish their super. It is positive to see that of our members who withdrew their super early, half of those have made headway in making contributions, whether through their employer or own pocket, to get their super back on track.

“For younger members in particular, now is the time to start making up some lost ground by using these contributions to rebuild their savings for the years ahead.”


Super gender gap still widening

The Retirement Realities research is the second in a series by CFS. While the first part looked at how Australians felt about their retirement prospects after the Coronavirus pandemic, this second phase delves into what Australians are doing (or can do) to start bridging the gap towards retirement, with a focus on helping those who needed to access their super early last year. 

The research analysed data from over 750,000 of CFS’s members over the five years from 2016 to 2020.

The data highlighted that while the Coronavirus pandemic took its toll financially on Australians, women are feeling the pinch more than men, especially in their retirement savings.

Not only was the average super balance for men consistently higher than women ($88,934 compared to $73,139 in December 2020), but the rate of growth was also faster for men. And contrary to popular belief that Australia is inching closer towards closing the gender super gap, CFS’s data showed that the gap widened further to 18 per cent (compared to 16 per cent in 2016).

While more men accessed their super early during the pandemic, the impact on average super balances of women was more pronounced (21 per cent compared to 18 per cent for men) because of the lower starting balance for women.

The data also showed that men were approximately 20 percentage points more likely than women to sacrifice their salary into super (61 per cent compared to 39 per cent).

Ms Power said: “The gender gap in the Australian superannuation system is a real issue that sees women financially disadvantaged. Coronavirus has pushed us back even further, creating greater urgency for solutions to the retirement realities challenging Australians, particularly women. 

“The super industry and the government must unite to create a system that closes the gender gap for good. Specific measures such as mandating super contributions on paid parental leave and removing the $450 per month threshold for superannuation to be paid will improve the retirement savings adequacy for low-income earners and casual workers, many of whom are women,” she added. 

Advice and engagement are key

Further analysis found that having financial advice made a significant difference to women approaching retirement. 

Among the 50 to 64 age segment, women who sought financial advice made a 199 per cent higher average voluntary contribution in 2020 than women who did not seek advice. Comparatively, advised male members were 85 per cent ahead of the non-advised. 

To this Ms Power added, “It’s encouraging to see that female members recognise the importance of super as they approach retirement. With help from their adviser, they can contribute extra to their super from any spare cash, including any inheritance or dividend payments, or sale of property.

CFS also saw improved member engagement with the rate of online log in activity increasing 5 per cent on a year-on-year basis. Pre retirees and retirees were more digitally engaged (closely attributed to having more products and funds under management), but engagement was lower among members under 40, and even lower as the age bracket further drops.  

Ms Power said: “Educating and engaging younger Australians about their finances is critical. Knowledge is the pathway to action. We want more Australians to engage with their super and take positive action to make their personal retirement goals come true,” Ms Power concluded.

Taking control - simple strategies to help Australians rebuild their nesteggs:

  • If you accessed super early, making small and regular top ups could make a big difference over the long term: If you withdrew $10,000 from your super, think about replenishing it outside of super guarantee. Making additional contributions of just $20 a fortnight from your pre-tax income (salary sacrifice) can mean an additional $25,000 at retirement. Because it is pre-tax, this would only equate to a reduction of $13 from their after-tax income per fortnight. 1
  • If you did not withdraw anything but want to grow super while saving tax or receiving other concessions: Talk to your financial adviser about the different ways you can maximise your super balance. Spousal, after-tax and concessional contributions may deliver tax breaks or qualify you for government contributions and can help to grow yours and / or your partner’s nest egg.  
  • Set online reminders to check your super: Similar to scheduling diary reminders for your work or social engagements, and for other bill payments such as credit card, rent, or utilities, set yourself diary reminders to check in your super every month. Think of it as a ‘reality check’ of where you’re headed in your journey to a comfortable retirement. 


Colonial First State Investments Limited ABN 98 002 348 352, AFSL 232468 (CFSIL) is the issuer of the FirstChoice range of super and pension products from the Colonial First State FirstChoice Superannuation Trust ABN 26 458 298 557. CFSIL also issues interests in products made available under FirstChoice Investments and FirstChoice Wholesale Investments. This document may include general advice but does not take into account your individual objectives, financial situation or needs. The Target Market Determinations (TMD) for our financial products can be found at and include a description of who a financial product is appropriate for. You should read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) and Financial Services Guide (FSG) carefully, assess whether the information is appropriate for you, and consider talking to a financial adviser before making an investment decision. The PDS and FSG can be obtained from or by calling us on 13 13 36.