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Commentary: As Singapore's population ages, society can do more to help women save up for retirement

Singapore will have at least 2,000 centenarians by 2030, as mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally.

In a “super-aged” society, the unequal caregiving burden on women will worsen the challenges in achieving retirement adequacy, says the author.

In a “super-aged” society, the unequal caregiving burden on women will worsen the challenges in achieving retirement adequacy, says the author.

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Singapore will have at least 2,000 centenarians by 2030, as mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally message.

With one in four expected to be aged 65 and above come the end of the decade, the Government is devoting significant resources to healthcare, building a senior-friendly environment, and helping Singaporeans meet their retirement needs.

The Majulah Package announced by PM Lee is the latest enhancement to our ageing policies where support will be given for the retirement needs of Singaporeans who are 50 years old and above in 2023.

The package is aimed at helping Singaporeans build up their retirement savings through top-ups to their Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts.

The Majulah Package will certainly provide some financial relief to Singaporeans who are either about to retire or who may have recently retired. This group of Singaporeans is the future cohort of the ageing population.

Also dubbed “tomorrow’s new old” (TNO), they are more likely to be the members of the so-called sandwich generation, responsible for caring for both the young and those older than them in their families. 

Among them, female TNOs shoulder the bulk of the caregiving, which affects their ability to secure adequate retirement savings.

In 2022, the average life expectancy of females in Singapore was 85.2 years while that for males was 80.7 years.

With more years spent in retirement, female TNOs will need even more retirement savings to ensure that they can lead meaningful lives in old age.

About half of the respondents in an online survey conducted by the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) in June 2022 were found to not have enough savings for retirement.


In a “super-aged” society, the unequal caregiving burden on women will worsen the challenges in achieving retirement adequacy as they need to provide care longer while taking care of their own healthcare needs as they age.

More attention to tackling the gender gaps in retirement adequacy is needed as broad-stroke policies are insufficient to address the negative effects of gendered roles in caregiving on retirement.

It is worthwhile to note that there is an increasing number of single caregivers among female TNOs.

The Ministry of Manpower’s labour force report in Singapore 2022 stated that there were more than 80,000 female residents outside of the labour force due to caregiving. 

Among them, 16 per cent were singles caring for family members or relatives. Many of these female caregivers who had work experience were found to have left their previous job more than 10 years earlier.

Taking time away from full-time work to assume the role of caregivers is a contributing factor to the gender pay gap and is, in part, the cause of the savings gap as reflected in the lower CPF balances for women.

Based on the CPF Board’s 2022 data, among those aged 50 to 65 years old, women’s total CPF balances were 13 per cent lower than men. 

However, for the younger age group of 20 to 45 years old, the total CPF balances of women were noticeably higher than men.


In a focus group discussion with female TNOs held in June 2023 by SCWO to understand their preparedness for retirement, the consensus among the participants was that financial independence is important, and more support is required for instilling financial literacy in female TNOs.

This is especially so for unemployed TNOs, homemakers, and those with part-time, freelance, self-employed, and contractual roles.

There should be more financial literacy programmes catering to these financially vulnerable TNOs to help them plan for retirement.

One example would be the Citi-Tsao Foundation Financial Education Programme for Mature Women. 

The programme is designed to impart financial knowledge, and explicitly builds culturally and socially appropriate social, communication, and emotional skills to support behavioural change and financial independence for women. 

More collaborations to raise awareness about the importance of financial literacy among female TNOs is needed between government agencies such as MoneySense, the CPF Board and community partners.

As part of these comprehensive financial literacy programmes for female TNOs, more can be shared about government measures that they can capitalise on to maximise their preparedness for retirement.

These include the CPF Matched Retirement Savings Scheme to boost their monthly payouts in retirement. Even though the effectiveness of the scheme can be limited as the eligibility is restricted to CPF members above 55 years old and is capped at S$600 annually.

Female TNOs who are unemployed rely on family members to do the top-ups.

To encourage more voluntary top-ups, the incentive of a S$8,000 tax relief for making the cash top-up to CPF accounts of loved ones can be further enhanced.

This contrasts with the incentive given to employers who make top-ups to their employees where employers enjoy full tax deduction on their top-ups under the CPF Matched Retirement Savings Scheme.

Another barrier to the financial independence of female TNOs shared by the participants is the inability to re-enter the workforce after years of caregiving, despite possessing vast prior job experiences and educational qualifications to be gainfully employed.

Their difficulty in securing jobs is typically due to stereotypical prejudice towards mature workers. TNOs tend to be offered jobs with roles that are of a lower level or are incompatible with their credentials. 

Such stereotyping and prejudice towards caregiving require mindset shifts. 

This is critical in sustaining human capital which is the most valuable resource of Singapore with an ageing population. 

When individuals regardless of gender or marital status are given support by their workplaces to manage their caregiving needs, both men and women can have equal workplace opportunities.

The intended introduction of the workplace fairness legislation in 2024 is a positive step towards eliminating workplace discrimination against caregivers and older workers, including women. 

While the legislation will provide a deterrent effect, preventive measures such as addressing unconscious bias through awareness and training programmes for employees and setting deliberate strategies to build a company culture that values inclusivity and diversity should be implemented in tandem.   


Referencing Iceland's achievement in topping the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) gender equality rankings for more than a decade, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said that its gender pension gap was last ranked the eighth lowest in the globe.

The high WEF ranking stems from Iceland’s following achievements in gender parity:  

  • Closing both healthcare and education gaps between men and women, 
  • Integrating more women into the labour force, 
  • Both parents taking parental leave almost equally, which has helped more women return to the workforce after maternity leave  

As the country is able to achieve gender parity on all fronts supported by employment, social and family policies, this trickles down and also results in equality in retirement savings. 

The effects of wider legislation on gender parity on citizens’ retirement adequacy can be significant.

As such, Singapore can take a leaf out of Iceland’s book by continuously introducing pragmatic polices to pave the way forward in gender parity — alongside targeted recommendations of strengthening financial literacy among female TNOs and gradually alleviating prejudice against this group at the workplace.

Only then will these women be able to reap the full benefits of the Majulah Package and achieve retirement adequacy. 

With all these measures in place, we can hopefully as a nation build a better society where female caregivers can live and age better.


Koh Yan Ping is chief executive officer of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations, the national coordinating body of women's organisations in Singapore.

Related topics

women retirement finance

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