Older women are heading back to the workplace in larger numbers to bridge the shortfall in their superannuation as they approach retirement.
Last year, the superannuation balances for women aged 55 to 64 were on average 37 per cent lower than those for men, ABS data has revealed. The average balance for women in this age bracket was $196,000, while men of the same age had $310,000.
The proportion of working women aged 65 to 74 has almost doubled in a decade, and has risen about 50 per cent among those aged 60 to 64. The proportion of working men in these age brackets has increased at a much lower rate.
About 4000 women found a job in Sydney or Melbourne last year with the help of Fitted for Work. Its chief executive, Donna De Zwart, said more older women from all walks of life were turning to the organisation for help to get back into work.
"Women 45 to 54 is our biggest age group - it accounts for 30 per cent of the women we see," she said. "That is the critical point - when things start going wrong. By the time they are in their 60s they are in dire straits."
A lack of superannuation, rising rents, underemployment due to raising children or caring for family and marriage breakdown are all factors that can lead women into poverty, Ms De Zwart said.
"The gender pay gap is starting to play a role in this too for this generation of women," she said. "There's a perception that this could never happen to me, [but] things can change in a heartbeat.
"There is a perception that once a woman hits a certain age bracket - and it is the same for some men - the workforce doesn't want them anymore. This cohort want to work and have the aptitude to work, and yet they're being overlooked."
University of Melbourne law school professor Beth Gaze said many older women were returning to work due to marriage breakdowns and the "insufficiency" of their superannuation.
"A lot of women, if they're going into old age by themselves, will be staring poverty in the face, so they'll be trying to work as much as they can," Professor Gaze said. "Even with compulsory super, women just can't accumulate the same sort of balance because they take time out for maternity leave and parental leave and so on."
Single women aged over 60 were the lowest income earning group in the 2017 HILDA survey, earning less than $30,000 a year on average.
As well as a corporate career, Anne Moore, 63, has had four businesses in her lifetime and is considering her next career move - an advisory role in academia.
''I expect to be working for the foreseeable future,'' she said. ''My PhD is half done. The oldest graduate at the University of Sydney was in their nineties, so I figure I have half a lifetime to complete it.''
Ms Moore is the founder of online career coach PlanDo, leading a team of six. She is both an advocate and a living example of the belief that women need to be ready to work beyond the traditional retirement age.
Updating and renewing skills for an evolving workforce was fundamental to personal wellbeing and a financial necessity, she said.
''The idea of retirement for me belongs in the last century. I'm constantly talking about the future of work, and I say we are all going to have to work longer than we think.''
Fortunately, Ms Moore says, the new world of work is ''set up beautifully for what women have been doing for a lifetime'', with flexible part-time and contractor gigs fitting women's desired work patterns and their collaborative management style finding increased favour in the gig economy.
Women are going to have to accept they will need to work longer to cover the superannuation gap, she says, but ''they live longer too''. Her superannuation is invested in her business.
''I don't work a 40-hour week; I work an 80-hour week," she says.
''Alongside industry leaders, I often come across women well into their seventies performing customer frontline jobs. Usually they've found themselves in a situation they could not have anticipated, but we are all working longer.''
Edwin Ip, a research fellow at Monash University, said research shows that women prefer more flexible and sociable hours because they traditionally needed more time for domestic and caring duties, which fell more heavily on them.
"Most jobs compensate disproportionately for working non-flexible hours and unsociable hours, as well as long hours," Dr Ip said. "As a result, we may find more men sorting themselves into these jobs.
"There is a stigma attached to fathers being the carer or taking parental leave. If this does not change, the maternity penalty will persist.
"Workplaces also need better strategies to reintegrate new parents back to work, as many companies struggle to retain mothers after maternity leave."
If work culture changes to be a more flexible structure, it can help retain women and maintain good pay."
In the United States, the pharmacy industry has reduced the gender wage gap substantially because it has shifted from family pharmacies with non-flexible hours to corporate-owned pharmacies where work is shift-based and more flexible, Dr Ip said.
"Another example is the gig economy, where one can work whenever a person wants, often at a fixed, non-negotiable wage.
"Recent research has shown that there is very little gender wage gap among Uber drivers, with any wage gap being attributed to men driving faster, having more experience and working more unsociable hours."
By Nigel Gladstone & Linda Morris
The Sydney Morning Herald
30 September 2018