The gender divide in retirement confidence

Posted 17 January 2024 by Laura Barnes

Men are generally more assured about their prospects for a comfortable retirement, the findings from our inaugural Retirement Confidence Index suggests. 

So, what is making women cautious about their financial futures? And are we right to be so?

A big part of it could be the fact that more men than women have a pension of any kind in the first place. Our research indicates men are also likely to know more about their pension arrangements, which suggests a higher level of engagement. 

There is still a lot of work to be done to improve pension awareness levels overall. To move the dial further we will need to see greater collaboration across the industry to effect positive change. 

The gender pensions gap is also something we need to get to grips with and attempt to close. According to the most recent data (2018 to 2020) this stands at 35% in private pensions. 

It's not likely to happen overnight. But progress is being made

Attitude to risk, emotional resilience and identifying investment opportunities are also factors that should also be considered when thinking about retirement confidence. These traits can present differently from person to person. 

There are plenty of studies out there which suggest women are more risk-averse when it comes to investing. This could result in lower returns over a sustained period. 

Can more be done to persuade women to be less risk-averse without moving to a reckless mindset? Most definitely. Finding out why we feel the way we do is an important place to start. Then we can build from that.  

How confident do we feel in our current financial situation? What would we like to see change to improve our confidence levels in retirement?

As part of our research, we asked the thought-provoking question: "How confident are you that you'll have enough money to live comfortably for the rest of your life?" 

Of course, there are a lot of things to consider with this. Generally, as a population, we are living longer, and we therefore tend to need higher levels of income in retirement. 

But there is a common tendency for us to underestimate our life expectancy and the amount of money we may need for a comfortable future. 


Reaching 100 is now a real possibility for many of us. The retirement of today looks very different to the retirement of yesterday and will also look different to that of tomorrow.   

Living in uncertain times with widespread cost of living concerns can make it even more difficult for people to try to connect with what their future financial situation could look like.  

While it's hard for us to know what to expect decades on from now, having a plan in place goes a long way to ensuring savers can genuinely feel confident about their financial prospects. 

The 2023 Nucleus UK Retirement Confidence Index returned an overall score of 6.9 with a negative outlook. Of the adults aged 50 and over surveyed - who have pension pots or pension entitlements other than the state pension - men gave a confidence score of 7.2, whereas it was 6.5 for women. 

Confidence levels broadly increase with age and the closer to retirement someone gets, or if they have already entered that stage of life. However, there is the risk that some cohorts are perhaps more confident than they should be without good reason.

Confident groups

  • No financial advice and accessed pension funds - Most confident (marginally)
  • Financial advice and accessed pension funds - Second most confident
  • Financial advice and not accessed pension funds - Third most confident
  • No financial advice and not accessed pension funds - Least confident

Much of this points to the importance of financial advice. 

Women tend to live longer than men and may try to factor that in when looking ahead at how much we'll need. Could it be that women are more likely to have a realistic grasp of our limitations? Possibly.  

But just as it doesn't always pay to be overconfident, the same applies for being overly cautious - especially when it comes to investing and thinking of your retirement income.  

Yet there are many reasons as to why women may feel less confident about retirement overall. 

Auto-enrolment may help to balance out pension takeup over time, but contribution levels, awareness and understanding present a greater challenge.

Not only do fewer women have a pension, but those who do tend to have a significantly lower amount compared with men. 

Often caring roles such as looking after children or older relatives have fallen to women in the past and this has impacted their earning power either because of working part-time or giving up work entirely.

The motherhood penalty is also something to factor in, where in some cases the wage gap between mothers and non-mothers can be larger than the wage gap between men and women. 

Strides have been made to narrow gender differences in employment rates and wages and this is likely to decrease the gender pension gap in future. 

Overall, the industry has more work to do in getting people to feel more connected with their pensions and investments so they can genuinely feel confident about what the future could look like.

It will be interesting to see how confidence levels change over time when we repeat the research. 

laura barnes

Laura Barnes

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laura barnes

Laura Barnes