Pension reform's impact on workers in France : a double burden for women?

Nour-Jihane Dahman | March 21st, 2021

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Under shouts from the opposition, Elisabeth Borne engaged, Thursday March 16 in the National Assembly, the responsibility of her government on pension reform. As a result, it invoked Article 49.3 of the Constitution, which permits the text to be adopted without a vote in the National Assembly. “Today, uncertainty hangs over a few decisions on the Parliament’s text. We cannot afford to chance losing 175 hours of parliamentary debate. We cannot chance having the compromise reached by the two Assemblies rejected. We cannot bet on the future of our pensions, and this reform is required,” the Prime Minister stated at the opening of the session.

This moment is significant because the article 49.3 has just been used for the 100th time since its first appearance in the Fifth Constitution.

According to the impact study of the bill presented Monday by the government, consulted by Le Monde, the reform will have contrasting effects on women. On the one hand, it will push women to prolong their activity a little longer than men. On the other hand, they should ultimately earn more than men. “Taken as a whole”, the reform “contribute to reduce the gaps in pensions between genres”, assures the executive.

The text calls for a gradual increase in the legal age of departure beginning September 1: it will be fixed at 63 years and three months in 2027, then 64 years in 2030, up from 62 years now. This measure will be combined with an acceleration of the extension of the contribution period allowed for by the Touraine legislation of 2014: to be eligible for a full pension, one must have worked for forty-three years from the generation born in 1965, rather than in 1973.

 Overall, the average retirement age is expected to rise from just under 63 today to 64.5 for future retirees in their 20s, according to the impact study. Without the reform, the average retirement age would have been 64, according to the same document. The French should therefore work six months longer on average. However, this figure hides strong disparities. For the generation born in the 1980s, men will work four additional months on average, compared to eight months more for women.

The change will encourage women to work longer hours than men, which will help to close the “pension gap” between the sexes. Women’s pensions are now 40% lower than men’s, with survivor’s pensions (a portion of a deceased spouse’s pension obtained by his widow) reducing the disparity to 28%.

In reality, women outnumber men among low-income pensioners. When children enter the household, it is mostly women who briefly suspend or even discontinue their careers. “Women are also more likely than men to work part-time and earn lower wages on average,” the government report adds. Women earn 16.8% less than males in full-time equivalent, that is, for the same volume of work, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Insee), whose most recent figures only take into consideration the private sector.

Women and men are still not treated equally when it comes to retirement. Women’s careers are shorter, which is why the new change will be detrimental to them. Because all reforms that involve extending working hours disadvantage women, who are more likely to have unfinished business: 40% retire with an unfinished job.

They are more likely to work part-time and have erratic careers because, with the advent of children, the vast majority of people suspend or even discontinue their careers. To top it all off, “their salaries are lower on average than those of men,” according to the study. The average difference is 28%, which impacts pension amounts, which are 40% lower than those of men (28% if survivors’ pensions are included).

The change does not address these inequalities and worsens women’s situations. Already, approximately 20% are waiting for the involuntary cancellation of the discount at the age of 67 in order to retire. Compared to 10% for males.


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