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Current state of retirement savings in SA

In a nutshell: South Africa is a complex country, whose fractured history begins to emerge the moment you tap into the question of retirement savings.

Just the mention of retirement savings often triggers an emotional binary response between those who have prepared for life after 65 and those who have not. And importantly, as is the focus of this article, their reasons why.
What is often lost in the well-cited data points about South Africa’s poor savings culture is the reason why saving is hard, why retirement is too distant a future to worry about, and why educating yourself on what it means to prepare for retirement often seems like drudgery; until retirement and its realities hit you quite literally, with a thud.

We want to assess the responses of ordinary South Africans towards their retirement planning. Hopefully, in showing you the human story of retirement savings, wherever you fall on the savings spectrum, you too will discover that no matter what deck of cards life has dealt you, you can change your retirement prospects by simply educating yourself and then doing something about it.

Retirement Savings – The Harsh Reality

The beauty of data and empirical research is that upon first reading, it’s not personal.
However, when data is laid bare, a story that locates many individuals within a bigger context emerges from the numbers. And then the data suddenly becomes a reading of your story, which becomes a trend and these trends become statistics.

To help you navigate the complex world of retirement savings, help is at hand!
With a number of user-friendly handy platforms like, Smart About Money from Asisa (Association of Savings and Investment South Africa) to MyMoney from the FSCA to Alex Forbes’ My Money Matters Toolkit – there is a wealth of retirement resources available to you, so that you can successfully start your investment journey.

Here is an interesting snapshot of retirement savings in South Africa as of 2023/2024. The following data was collected from the 10x Retirement Reality Report 2023/24, and the Sanlam LI:FE of Confidence and News24 survey on retirement savings.

Putting Food on the Table

In the year 2019, half of the adult population of South Africa (49,2%) was living below the poverty line.
StatsSA’s recent calculation (August 2022) of the upper-bound poverty line for individuals was an income of R1 417 per month.

The March 2023 cost of a basic nutritional food basket for a family of four was R3 430 (Household Affordability Index, March 2023). This means that even in dual-breadwinner households, parents are not earning enough to provide the nutrition their families require.

Extrapolating this further it becomes clear from these sobering numbers that retirement saving and planning are a near impossibility for many South Africans.

Women and Retirement

The trends of women and their retirement savings paint another contextual picture in our South African socio-economic story.

There are 14,3 million employed people in South Africa, out of a population of approximately 60 million.

Lack of retirement education

  • Only one-third of South Africans have a relatively solid grasp of what it will require to fund their retirement years.
  • Only 36% of South Africans have a retirement fund.
  • Only 7% of South Africans feel prepared for retirement.

Lack of retirement savings

  • Two-thirds of South Africans are either not saving at all for retirement, or their retirement planning is vague.
  • Of those whose retirement plans were vague, they gave the response of “I cannot afford to save” and “I have nothing left at the end of the month” as reasons why they have not started saving towards their retirement.

Of those who work, only 6,2 million (43%) are women.
Of these working women, 4,15 million (67%) are in formal employment, with the balance located in the following sectors:
15% are in informal employment, 4% are working on farms and 14% are employed as domestic workers.

The story gets interesting as South Africa is also struggling with a high concentration (42,2%) of female-headed households. The province with the highest percentage of female-headed households is the Eastern Cape with 49,6%.

The majority (44,1%) of South African children under 18 years of age live with their single mothers, compared to a third (32,7%) who live with both parents and 19,5% who live with neither of their parents, and 3,7% live with their fathers.

South African single mothers are therefore, statistically, the sole largest providers for nearly half of the country’s children under 18. Given the economic strain these mothers are under, it isn’t surprising that 49% of all female respondents of a recent Sanlam / News24 survey indicated that they do not have a retirement plan, compared with 43% of men.

The Elderly and Retirement

An overreliance on the state pension has been cited as one of the biggest mistakes South Africans make when it comes to their retirement savings.
However, despite the call to diversify retirement income, the reality remains that 73% of South Africa’s elderly population are beneficiaries of the state old-age grant. Without these monthly payouts, these elderly people cannot afford to live.

Combined with this, 53% of these people aged 60+ live in extended households, where they are likely to receive and will require some psych-social and emotional support. So, the reality of the “sandwich generation” is hitting South African adult children as they are forced to look after their ageing parents as well as their own growing children.

*Sandwich generation meaning:
Middle-aged adults (often in their 40s and 50s) who are caring for both elderly parents and their own children.

The Way Forward

While the numbers paint a grim picture of the realities many South Africans face when it comes to saving for their retirement, it sadly does not absolve us from the responsibility of making provision for our retirement, no matter where we find ourselves on the savings spectrum.

Given this data, it becomes imperative to position our retirement story within the broader context of many South Africans and decide, where possible, where we want to make positive differences for the sake of our long-term future.