Women shortchanged in retirement: Our inadequate child care system forces parents to stay home with kids, reducing ability to earn pension benefits

Paul Kershaw, Vancouver Sun

… If we want to support Canadians in their efforts to save enough for retirement, then we need to address the barriers to earning and saving that people face far, far earlier. Regrettably, Canada’s failing grade for family policy is a major barrier, especially for women.

UNICEF reports that Canadian family policy falls among the worst industrialized countries because it invests little in families with children under age six. The OECD agrees when measuring public investments in child care services. Similarly, a U.K. Fairness in Families Index ranks Canada 15th out of 20 countries because our policy is weak in supporting men and women to equally share parenting and breadwinning.

Poor family policy rankings have tangible consequences in the day-to-day lives of Canadians, which result in lower retirement incomes for women.

Current parental leave policy provides the typical two-parent family with nearly $5,000 in incentives for the lower-earning spouse to withdraw from employment to care for a newborn, rather than share a year of leave between parents. Given that Canadian women age 25-44 continue to earn about 70 cents on the dollar compared to men’s earnings, the lower earner is most often the mother. The result is that Canadian leave policy encourages women to take on primary responsibility for child care, and discourages dads’ involvement….

It is no coincidence that our family policy and gender equality rankings converge near the bottom of OECD countries. They emerge from a common cultural reality: Canadians are content to ask young women to sacrifice their earnings, career ambitions and future retirement security to compensate for our national failure to prioritize family policy investments.

Given that almost 40 per cent of Canadian marriages end in divorce, what we ask of young women is very risky for their future retirement. Adequate retirement policy must therefore broaden beyond narrow pension debates to address the root causes of insufficient retirement income. For women, a major root cause remains Canada’s bad policy deal for the gender.

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