The gender pay gap has driven a 36% difference between the average amounts men and women have been putting into their KiwiSaver every year, new research suggests.

Data released by the Retirement Commission indicates the disparity has been primarily caused by a difference in earnings — rather than a difference in contribution rates — as women and men tended to contribute the same proportion of their salaries to KiwiSaver.

The analysis was carried out by AUT’s New Zealand Policy Research Institute, which looked at new data only available to researchers from April 2019.

The Retirement Commission has revealed the average annual contribution difference between men and women.

The average employee contribution amount from men has been approximately 33% higher than those of women, $2886 compared to $2160, according to the research.

Meanwhile, the average employer contributions for men were approximately 39% higher than those for women, $2328 compared to $1673.

Retirement Commission policy lead Michelle Reyers said the new data would allow better analysis of KiwiSaver contributions for the future.

“It exposes some clear imbalances which tell us that, if we don’t make changes, we are on a pathway to continue seeing the inequalities we are already seeing in our retired population for decades to come,” she said.

A commission spokesperson said the data “highlights the sizeable impact of ethnic and gender pay gaps on New Zealanders’ abilities to prepare adequately for retirement”.

“Women are also more likely to work part-time and take on unpaid caring responsibilities, further exacerbating this gap, which is why we are seeing a larger difference in the dollar value of contributions into women’s accounts compared to men’s accounts in this research.

“The research shows ethnic pay gaps are also mirrored in lower KiwiSaver contribution amounts for Māori and Pacific peoples.

“If you are Māori or Pacific, you are likely to have around $1500 less contributed into your KiwiSaver account annually than a European person.

A financial expert is advising savers to hold on for the long run.

“However, Māori have the second highest average employee contribution rate of the ethnic groups reported in this research — despite having the lowest average income.

“It is already known that Māori, Pacific Peoples and women are more likely to be reliant on NZ Super in retirement due to lower savings and investments.”

Data also indicated contribution rates varied by age, with younger and older people contributing at higher average rates than those in their 30s and 40s.

Employees on average contributed more than employers, with more than a third of employees contributing at higher than the minimum of 3%, whereas less than 10% of workers had employer contributions above 3%.

Retirement Commissioner Jane Wrightson said the data showed a need for employers to contribute at higher rates than the current KiwiSaver minimum of 3%.

“At the moment we’re not seeing employers show the initiative we’d hope to see, one in three employees already contribute at a rate higher than the 3% minimum,” she said.

“Almost half [of employers] include KiwiSaver contributions in total earnings for some or all of their employees, which can disincentivise employees to contribute.

“If we want to see change, I think we need to see a more proactive attitude across the board from employers.”