AS the baby boom generation takes to the beaches, the cruise liners and the gym, so the number of surveys dedicated to this age group soars. The latest tells us that what makes a good retirement is simple: not being woken by the alarm clock. Add to that a decent sex life, plenty of friends and enough of your original marbles to compete on Pointless and Mastermind, and the barometer for your golden years is set fair to peachy.

What these questionnaires seem not to ask, however, is whose pension is financing this carefree existence. For too many women, it is safe to assume that their other half – assuming it’s a male – holds the padlock to their funds. And, indeed, that this bloke has for years been keeping as close an eye on his pension pot as if it were a prize marrow, carefully nurtured to reach the pinnacle of weight and juiciness on the very day he retires.

I was a freelancer in my mid-thirties when a financial advisor told me it was already too late to think about saving for a pension. He sat on my sofa, unconscious of the cat hairs velcroing themselves to his polyester suit, while he sipped coffee, keener to discuss one of the books on my shelves – A Slang Dictionary of Sex, if you must know – than advise on my prospects in old age. Now, I am appalled to think that I listened to a word he said. For years after, however, the very mention of pensions made me stick my fingers in my ears. Nor, I discover, have I been alone.

Despite all our advances in equality, women’s pension provision remains considerably poorer than that of men. More than one-third of us, in fact, haven’t a clue how much we are likely to receive. As a recent report has shown, on average a woman’s pension holding is £50,000 lower than that of a man. According to one dismayed expert, “burying heads in the sand is simply not an option”.

But for most of us this is exactly what we do. Because what is the alternative? Pensions are one of the last bastions of institutionalised sexism. They are the actuarial equivalent of the dinosaur who expects his dinner on the table when he gets home, and refuses to change a nappy. Discrimination blights this issue to such an extent that whatever action someone takes to improve her situation is a fleabite on the elephant’s back.

Barring the disabled or ill, those who will claim the most anorexic pensions are women who have taken time off to have children, and subsequently worked part-time to bring up their family. To their ranks can be added those who reduce their hours or give up work to help elderly relatives.

Inevitably, certain women will have been able to make these caring choices because of their partner’s healthy income. The problem is, by relying at this stage on someone else, they are potentially putting themselves in a vulnerable position in the years ahead. Come the day they turn 67 or 70, they will be thirled to their bank-roller, for better or worse. That does not sound to me like the recipe for a joyous farewell to working life, especially since financial independence is a vital ingredient in a happy partnership, no matter your age.

Whether partnered or single, however, these women have been at a disadvantage from the very start. Long before they slipped down or off the employment ladder their income is likely to have been markedly lower than for the man at the next desk doing the same job. Currently, the gender pay gap is 13.9 per cent. It takes a moment to digest that figure, and everything it represents in the way of die-hard discrimination.

And it gets worse. Research in France has shown that for each child she bears a mother’s wage or salary drops by three per cent. While her paycheck is not actually docked, her chances of promotion or bonuses are thwarted, presumably by a toxic combination of prejudice, neglect and disapproval. Bosses ought to regard anyone who can juggle a family household with regular employment as a Wonderwoman, capable of Olympic levels of organisation, productivity and diplomacy. Instead the working mum is routinely patronised, deemed insufficiently driven, and consequently overlooked and downgraded. In this situation, the last thing she needs is to be told it is her own fault. Must she really take all the blame for having to work well beyond retiral in order to pay her bills?

It goes without saying that all of us have a responsibility to take care of our own finances. A woman would be short-sighted and reckless indeed to delegate her fiscal affairs entirely to her man, the way her mother or grandmother would unthinkingly have done. Even so, there is only so much she can do to improve her lot if she has opted to stay at home with children, or look after elderly or ailing relatives. Nor are these roles a soft option. Just listen to young mothers groaning at how much harder, if more rewarding, it is to spend the day with their toddlers than to put in a shift at the office. Even more taxing is caring for the elderly, especially when one is no longer young oneself. It’s not surprising women begin to feel drab and invisible, doing work that is seen as lowly and dull. Yet without their hidden input, the country would be left reeling.

Since women’s lower pay and pension potential is to a great extent a product of society’s blinkered economic priorities, it falls to the state, and employers, to plug this unconscionable gap. If nothing else, businesses must eradicate the pay differential, thereby instantly boosting women’s pensions. It would be nice if they would also rethink their attitude to the mothers on their staff. At the same time, the state should compensate at-home mothers and carers for their crucial contribution to the nation’s well-being by paying pension top-ups on their behalf. This will not be an easy policy to calculate or put into action. It would, however, offer a long overdue duty of care to that great army of women who, sometimes at great personal cost, and usually without a second thought, have put the needs and interests of others before their own.