WHETHER it is because they earn less than men, have a career break when they have children or go back to work part-time once those children are in their lives, women, in general, are likely to have less money than men to spend in retirement. A lot less money.

According to research from Scottish Widows, the difference between the average man’s and average woman’s pension pot at retirement is £78,000, which it says is the equivalent to 2.5 times the average household disposable income in the UK. In its 15th Women and Retirement Report, the pensions business said there was evidence that that gap could be starting to narrow, with 57 per cent of women now saving an adequate amount for retirement – the highest proportion since the report began.

Not just that, but average savings among women have also risen by 4.6 since 2007/08, which would equate to an additional £5,900 in income every year in retirement, while the number of women contributing at least something to a pension has increased by almost 15% over the period. Participation among men has risen by just 8% over the same timeframe.

The news is to be welcomed, not least because earlier this year research from the Pensions Policy Institute (PPI) found that there are currently 50% more women than men heading towards retirement with no pension savings at all. In its report Understanding the Gender Pensions Gap, the PPI said that translated to 1.2 million women in their 50s facing the prospect of surviving on just the state pension. If younger women are starting to save, that situation can be ameliorated over time.

However, Jackie Leiper, distribution director at Scottish Widows, said that while there has been an overall improvement in women’s pension savings, there are still groups that are likely to be at a financial disadvantage in retirement.

Lower-middle female earners in particular, such as those working in care homes, supermarkets, nurseries and call centres have seen the smallest improvement in savings rates over the past decade, with only 47% of women earning between £10,000 and £20,000 thought to be saving enough for their retirement. By contrast, 65% of women earning £40,000 or more are deemed to be saving enough.

“We’ve come a long way, but 15 years later there’s still an unacceptable gap between men and women,” Ms Leiper said.

Research from financial services business Fidelity International sheds some light on the reason for the ongoing gap, with its study Generation Self-Employed finding that while 35% of women in employment have no form of pension at all, the figure rises to 71% among self-employed women.

Emma-Lou Montgomery, associate director for personal investing at Fidelity, said that while pensions auto-enrolment has made sure millions of people have started to save into a workplace pension for the first time, the fact so many women are now choosing the flexibility of self-employment means many are missing out.

“Choosing to become your own boss means assuming the responsibility of planning for retirement yourself,” she said. “While the number of female entrepreneurs is on the rise, our figures suggest many have yet to consider what this means for their finances.”

A further study – this time from Cass Business School – suggests that even when women are saving for retirement, their attitude to risk means their pots are being given less of a chance to grow than men’s.

Noting that women are “more risk-averse than men”, Professor David Blake, director of the Pensions Institute at Cass, said: “Over a long investment horizon, such as that involved in building up a pension pot, this behaviour has been described as ‘reckless conservatism’ – women with the same salary history as men would, on average, have lower pensions as a result.

“To avoid this, ways may need to be found of nudging women away from their comfort zone. One common way to do this is to have a gender-neutral default investment fund that involves a more aggressive investment strategy at young ages than women would normally choose.”

Whether or not women should be taking on more investment risk in order to grow their pension savings and help close the gender pensions gap is moot, though, when the influence of factors such as the gender pay gap mean many are not earning enough to put into a pension pot in the first place.

Ms Leiper said it is for this reason that a series of reforms will be required if the gender pensions gap is ever going to be closed.

“Increased default savings levels, improving the scope of auto-enrolment and managed access to pension savings to support a first home deposit or to overcome a period of financial hardship are just some of the ways we can make a real difference,” she said.