Wealth accumulation inequities exist across the Middle East and Africa, with women expected to accumulate less wealth at the end of their working careers than men. This is known as the gender wealth gap.

The Wealth Equity Indices for the Middle East and Africa exhibit significant variation. The regional average is 0.71 . Indices range from a high of 0.81 for Israel, to Nigeria at 0.60, the lowest globally of the countries analyzed.

Our findings are grouped into the following categories:

  • Family support: including childcare and eldercare
  • Career: pay and career progression
  • Life events: divorce and widowhood
  • Financial: savings vehicles, and differences in financial literacy and risk tolerance.

Family support

Across the Middle East and Africa, the weight of childcare responsibilities tends to fall to women. Similar to other regions, this is reinforced through structural differences in parental leave for men and women, and gender pay gaps.

Concerning childcare facilities, in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), most companies only start paying school fees for children aged six and above. Maternity leave is also limited, and consequently, women may leave the workforce to care for children over their formative years. In Nigeria, most children are afforded family care rather than through the public system. Similarly, Saudi nationals would rely on their family to help with childcare.

In some countries such as Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, the employ of nannies is widespread for the more affluent — but not all women have the financial means to avail of this resource.

Eldercare is also a factor. In Arab countries, for instance, it is often necessary for children to take care of their parents as the retirement systems provide inadequate income for later years. Elderly parents sometimes live with their children, and in these cases, women are the main caregivers.

The preponderance of the above factors results in women within the region taking employment breaks to the detriment of career and pay advancement and ultimately, the accumulation of wealth.

Career

Traditionally, there has been a lack of female representation in more senior roles across the region, evidencing entrenched gender biases. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE , there has been a recent concerted push from the respective governments to appoint women into more senior roles. However, WTW data shows the distribution of women in senior expert and leadership roles remains restrained – ranging from 4% (Saudi Arabia) to 12% (Israel, South Africa and Turkey).

Traditionally, there has been a lack of female representation in more senior roles across the region, evidencing entrenched gender biases.

Like other regions, a gender pay gap persists, which is more pronounced for senior expert and leadership roles. Some progress is, however, being made. For example, a new law was passed this year in the UAE to ensure equal pay between genders1.

For frontline operational roles, our analysis found that Turkey has the largest gender wealth inequity in the region. This is related to the structure of social security, mandatory and retirement indemnity benefits and the interaction with higher salaries for men compared to women.

For senior expert and leadership roles, the largest gender wealth inequity is seen in Nigeria. This is primarily driven by the significant gender pay gaps, which are larger than other countries analyzed in the region.

Life events

In the Middle East and Africa, women cannot necessarily anticipate an equitable division of assets on divorce. In Saudi Arabia, women do not automatically receive half the total accumulated wealth on divorce. Distribution depends on what has been agreed in the marriage contract, and alimony is decided by a judge. The situation in the UAE is similar. In South Africa, asset distribution on divorce will be dictated by any pre-nuptial agreement in place.

On widowhood in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, depending on who the eligible heirs are, women may lose a significant amount of their husbands’ inheritance. In South Africa, it is not uncommon for men to have multiple families, complicating any asset division.

Similar to other regions, our modeling illustrated that divorce and widowhood has little incremental impact on women’s accumulated wealth.

Financial

Financial literacy is a significant determinant of wealth at retirement, as this influences investment decisions and resultant capital accumulation. In Turkey, financial decisions generally rest with men, and financial literacy for working women tends to be lower. Conversely, women’s financial literacy is much higher in the UAE, where women also tend to perform better at school, and excel at university.2

For all countries in the region, women accumulate less wealth through state, mandatory and employer sponsored retirement benefits than men.

For all countries in the region, women accumulate less wealth through state, mandatory and employer sponsored retirement benefits than men. Other contributing factors to this difference, aside from differences in financial literacy and their resultant impact on investment returns, include differences in pay and structural aspects of the retirement systems. Further, in South Africa, there are no retirement contributions made on behalf of women over the period of maternity leave, further exacerbating any wealth differences arising from curtailed career progression and pay stagnation due to having children.

Aside from pension and retirement plans, within the region it is not uncommon for men to handle affairs with respect to finances and real estate. According to our research, real estate assets in Nigeria may be held solely in the husband’s name. In Saudi Arabia, until last year women needed permission from men to open a bank account, and own real estate. In contrast, women in South Africa have access to the same savings vehicles as men.

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