By Valerie Yurk

Pensions are in decline – and for women, it has a lot to do with the disadvantages they face in the workplace.

In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, Amy Matsui of the National Women’s Law Center explained some of those disadvantages.

For starters, families tend to arrange caregiving responsibilities so women are either working part-time jobs or not working at all. Women also experience a wage gap as soon as they enter the workforce; women who work full time and year-round will lose $406,760 over a 40-year career, on average.

Working less and earning less both limit women’s participation in retirement savings plan, since income and time spent working determine retirement assets. In effect, women become more reliant on their spouse’s benefits. That’s why, on average, women age 63 will have only two-thirds of the retirement savings and benefits that men do.

Matsui, the law center’s director of income security and senior counsel, explained retirement savings plans as a pyramid. Social Security is the base;  other pension plans – such as defined benefit or defined contribution retirement plans – are slices on top.

Matsui said women are less likely to work in places that provide employer-sponsored  retirement plans,  causing them to be more reliant on Social Security benefits.

“Social Security is not enough to provide for secure retirement because it is only a base,” she said.

To create more secure retirement plans for women, Matsui said politicians should add aspects to Social Security that  recognize and provide benefits to women working as caregivers. Also, women need more opportunities to receive other pension benefits.

“We can’t have policies that make people bet on their futures,” she said. “We want to make it easier to keep savings together.”