Artillery Row

Should we mind the pension gap?

We need the freedom to choose home life over the market

Last weekend, Scottish Widows, the pensions and insurance company, took out a double page spread in The Times, to advertise their concern about the ‘pension gap’ between men and women. Alongside their customary attractive young ‘widow’ they now have a ‘kick-ass’ young girl – because it’s never too early to start thinking about your pension.

According to Scottish Widows, the average 20-year-old woman could face a future where she has £78,000 less saved for retirement than her male counterpart. Scottish Widows ascribe the gap to ‘the gender pay gap and more women than men working part-time or taking career breaks‘. And for once, we have here, some corporate PR about the pension gap which is rather sensible and moderate. The firm wants women to save more. Also for there to be shared parental leave rights. Yet we would be naive to imagine that this sensible response will be a widespread one. The ‘pension gap’ narrative is going to grow, along with demands that it be closed. After all, differences between men and women are based on discrimination – how can they stem from anything else? These differences must be eliminated.

The only way for the ‘pension gap’ to be disappear completely would be for men and women to choose the same profile of careers across sectors and industries; and then to stay in the workforce for the same length of time with the same pattern of rising seniority and reward. For this to happen, men and women will also need to make the same choices about managing childcare and taking other time out of paid work.

But what if they don’t want to? What if, based on long and careful thought and consideration, between people who love each other, more men choose to support their families by going out of the home to get paid work, and more women choose to support their families by staying at home to care for family and home? Ultimately we need to decide whether people should be free, or whether they should be variously nudged or forced to behave in ways that produce well-behaving statistics and politically-correct narratives. Also, isn’t it possible that men will spend some of their pension income on the women they love? Or are we all atomised individuals now, not merely all fending for ourselves, but with no acceptable choice to do anything else?

It puzzles me how contemporary liberalism is moving away from a century of welfare consensus that said, in effect, we should, and could, live freely, but with the state providing a safety net. Now, we move towards a system, policed by progressives, which disapproves of any heretics who choose not to be efficient servants of the market. The ‘pension gap’ is best understood as being merely the inevitable statistical consequence of people still being allowed to lead the family lives that suit them. Throwing away this freedom in pursuit of arid mathematical ‘equality’ would be an unwise step.

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