Menopause and wellbeing
Planning for menopause and its financial impacts has not traditionally been part of the public conversation. Then again, mentioning the menopause in any context has long been taboo – but thanks to the annual World Menopause Day, awareness and openness are increasing on a global level. Taking place annually on 18 October, the day was introduced by the International Menopause Society (IMS), to expand the conversation and share support options that could improve wellbeing for those experiencing this transition.
Menopause is often dismissed and reduced to the singular symptom of 'hot flushes' but the impacts are much more wide reaching. The theme of this year's Menopause Day is Brain Fog and Memory Difficulties, and we'll explore how these disruptive physical symptoms can also impact mental health and financial wellbeing, including pension savings.
Some facts around menopause
Menopause usually takes place between ages 45 and 55, with an average age of 51. The time leading up to this is known as perimenopause, and can often occur from age 35, becoming more significant in the 40s. Approximately 13 million women, transgender and non-binary people in the UK are either peri or post-menopausal, and symptoms can last up to 15 years. Menopause can also happen prematurely, early, occur through surgery when both ovaries are removed, or be induced by some forms of medical treatment.
Perimenopause is a time when oestrogen fluctuates and reduces, which means mood can be affected and anxiety may occur. Problems with brain fog, memory and motivation may also be part of the picture. Adding to the hormone imbalance, progesterone also steadily decreases, which can lead to feeling less calm, irritability, difficulties with sleep and a worsening of premenstrual syndrome. Over a long period of time, these physical symptoms could lead to secondary mental wellness problems. It's worth nothing that if you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms around this age, menopause may be a contributing factor.
When menopause arrives, further symptoms can include heart palpitations and joint pain, to a proven memory change that can bring brain fog, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, plus forgetting or misplacing items and appointments. While this is a normal, usually temporary feature of midlife, brain fog can affect quality of life. If we consider the fact that the female workforce in the UK is ageing, more working women than ever before will experience menopause effects during their working life.
Negative impacts upon work
Statistics confirm that 63% of people experiencing menopause have experienced negative impacts on their work, and 1 in 4 have considered leaving their job as a result. Two thirds of women going through the menopause say they have no support in place at work. Another piece of research published in early 2022 states that more than 1 million women in the UK could be forced out of their jobs this year because their employers are not supporting them as they go through the menopause.
How the gender pension gap comes in
Reducing hours, retiring early or simply leaving work before retirement due to menopause symptoms, can lead to impacts in short and long term financial wellbeing. In turn, this leads to reduced pension contributions which is a factor of the gender pension gap — an occurrence that's much wider than menopause alone and refers to impacts upon a woman's finances throughout their life that lead to lesser pension pots than those of men. These factors begin as soon as the workplace is entered, and can include lower wages, taking maternity leave or time off to become a parent, caring responsibilities, divorce, or death of a partner. A recent report discovered a 40.3% gap in pension savings between women and men — which relates to an average difference in pension income by gender of about £7,500 a year.
Knowledge is power
While this picture may sound overwhelming, gaining understanding can make a difference in alleviating the effects of the menopause and in turn the gender pension gap. If you can, it's important to think about financial planning in case you're affected by the menopause. Here are some questions that could be a starting point:
- Can you set money aside in case you need to reduce hours?
- Could you talk to a financial adviser for planning help?
- What other pressures might be coming in the next 10 years — are your children going to university, for example?
- Have you discussed ideas and options with your partner and family?
- Can your partner contribute to your pension?
- Are there lifestyle or career changes that you could make to help cushion impacts?
- Take a look at your National Insurance record on gov.uk to find out if you'll get the full State Pension amount upon retirement, which requires a a total of 35 years of National Insurance contributions or credits. If it seems you won’t have that amount, it might be possible to pay to fill in the gaps.