Pensions & retirement for women

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

For too many women in Canada, retirement means only financial struggle. Senior women are twice as likely to live in poverty as men. 30% of elderly women on their own live below the poverty line. Women are far more reliant on OAS and GIS than men. In 2011, 30% of senior women's total income was from OAS and GIS, compared to only 18% for senior men.

How can we ensure good pensions and retirement security for women?

  1. Improve Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) benefits.
  2. Restore the eligibility for GIS and Old Age Security (OAS) benefits to age 65.
  3. Stop the attacks on public services and public-sector workers and their pensions.
  4. Support proactive pay equity legislation to address the gender wage gap.


When you earn less over a lifetime, you aren’t as likely to be able to retire in dignity and security.  Too many women work long hours for low pay in jobs that offer little or no pension. Women’s wages continue to be lower than men’s, and women still shoulder most of the responsibility for caregiving, interrupting their careers, working part-time, or taking jobs that pay less while they juggle work and family responsibilities. Women also live longer than men, and this means they have to save more for their retirement.

This pension income gap persists even though in recent decades women have won:

  • Access for part-time workers to workplace pensions and better pension vesting rights.
  • Fairer Canada Pension Plan (CPP) rules for those who stop work to help raise children.
  • CPP and Old Age Security (OAS) benefits indexed to inflation.

Women have achieved a higher rate of pension coverage than men (40.3% versus 37.4%) largely because we gained access to unionized public sector jobs with pensions.

But so many challenges remain, especially for the next generation of workers. Young women are more likely to work low- paying part-time jobs that typically offer no pension plan. Meanwhile, student debt loads and low wages make it impossible to save for a house, never mind for retirement. When children come along, the high cost of child care puts a huge squeeze on family budgets, making saving for retirement an impossible dream.

Why are Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) especially important for women?

  • In 2008, OAS and GIS comprised 30% of senior women’s income – nearly twice as much as men’s – making them critical sources of support. Senior women who live alone, and especially elderly
  • women, are among Canada’s poorest, as women tend to have fewer years of paid work and CPP/QPP contributions than men.
  • The federal Conservative government announced in 2012 that the eligibility age for OAS and GIS would be raised from 65 to 67. When this change takes effect, older women will be hit the hardest.
  • Senior women who live alone, and especially elderly women, are among Canada’s poorest, as women tend to have fewer years of paid work and CPP/QPP contributions than men.
  • The federal Conservative government announced in 2012 that the eligibility age for OAS and GIS would be raised from 65 to 67. When this change takes effect, older women will be hit the hardest. 

What are unions doing?

Thanks to the hard-fought efforts of unions, the poverty rate among single senior women has been cut in half since 1976. Ten times as many women belong to workplace pension plans as in 1974, and the number of working women with a pension plan has grown. 

Unionized workplaces are more likely to have pensions and related benefits: 76% of unionized workers have access to a workplace pension plan, compared to 28% of nonunion workers. Because more women work in the public sector, more women than ever are paying into workplace pensions. In 2010, 88.8% of women working in the public sector belonged to a pension plan, and women accounted for 62% of all pension plan members in the public sector.

Canada’s labour movement is leading a campaign to increase the Canada Pension Plan/Quebec Pension Plan so that all workers in Canada can count on a decent pension in retirement. Every worker belongs to the CPP/QPP, and the plans are safe, fully-portable, and provide predictable, secure, inflation-protected benefits for life, at very low cost. Pension experts, provincial governments and seniors organizations all support increasing the CPP/QPP.

Now we need the Federal government to work with the provinces and territories to implement a fully funded plan to phase in such an increase without delay.