Events & News


Older Women, Retirement and Income Adequacy: A Comparison of Belgium, Germany and Singapore

Dr Treena Wu, Postdoctoral Fellow, National University of Singapore and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School

17 Jan 2012

SR 502, Level 5, Executive Centre, NTU@one-north campus, 11 Slim Barracks Rise, Singapore 138664

3.30 – 5 pm


The three countries in Dr Treena Wu’s study on Older Women, Retirement and Income Adequacy – Belgium, Germany and Singapore – are comparable in that they are developed countries which face issues related to an ageing population, similar levels of overall female labour participation, and has a low fertility rate that is below the ‘replacement level’.

Women in industrialized countries, on average, have longer life expectancies than men, but the assumption of public pension policies is still that men are the main breadwinners in families, and thatwomen’s routes to pension income (or in Singapore, CPF payouts) largely assume dependence on their husband. Yet fewer young women today prefer to and marry and have children. All this calls for a substantial rethink of legislation on retirement and pension policy.

The labour participation of Singaporean women tends to fall much earlier in the course of their lifespans than in Belgium and Germany. This spells less income adequacy in their CPF accounts for old age. The faster economic and overall development of Singapore, which occurred within a shorter and at a later point of time in history than Belgium and Germany, has implications here – it means that older Singaporeans today, especially women, are less likely than their European counterparts to have gone to university. This in turn has crucial implications for late-life employment.

Dr Wu cites pension credits as a key example of a family policy instrument that may be more effective in protecting older women financially compared to labour market policies. In Belgium and Germany, pension credits may be earned during time taken off from work for maternity leave or an education sabbatical, and these would be used to help women qualify for full pension and retirement benefits. In Singapore, no such scheme exists.

For Dr Wu, Singapore is learning well from countries like Germany in adjusting to the needs related to a declining, ageing population, but it is moving and adjusting this too fast and too abruptly, such as in how it raised the retirement age from 62 to 65 (and likely to be raised to 67 soon). This could stem from Singapore’s tripartite system governing labour relations not being sufficiently sympathetic to old age concerns

Crafting a workable advocacy position is crucial to effecting change in Singapore’s CPF policy for older women. The invocation of gender equality has often been shot down as an ‘emotive argument’. Perhaps advocates for Dr Wu’s proposals should focus on the ‘logical contradictions’ of existing policy, such as the push for more women to have babies while remaining in the workforce.