Do career breaks come with a retirement price tag?

More working-age Australians intend to take a career break at some point. We’ve calculated the potential impact of doing so on retirement superannuation balances.

Extended career breaks were once a rarity for most Australian workers but these days they are more common.

Vanguard’s inaugural How Australia Retires study has found that 2 in 5 current working-age Australians (40%) – those that did not identify as being retired – expect to take some form of extended break from work during their career, probably between their twenties and fifties.

Those career breaks are most likely to be in the form of parental leave, study leave, or extended holidays.

Vanguard’s study found that career breaks are more likely to be taken by those working-age Australians on higher salaries who have a retirement plan in place and possess higher confidence in funding their desired lifestyle in retirement.

Unlike the generations before them, 1 in 2 younger Australians (under 35 years old) expect to take parental leave, especially in their thirties.

This next generation of retirees will need to factor in the financial cost of extended career breaks, particularly the impact that time away from full-time work can have on superannuation balances and long-term retirement savings.

The Vanguard study found that 39% of males and 61% of females aged under 35 expect to take, or have already taken, parental leave.

This contrasts with Australians over 55 years old, whose lives were more likely characterised by full-time work from their twenties through to their sixties. Their path to retirement was rarely interrupted by further study, parental leave, career breaks or multiple career changes.

Costing career gaps

There are many variables when it comes to calculating the potential cost of a career break, including the amount of time taken off from work, an individual’s age, and their salary.

Vanguard has done some broad calculations in the table below to illustrate, on a very general level, the potential long-term financial impact of taking a one- or two-year career break.

The dollar estimates are based on specific salaries and superannuation contribution rates and assume a wide range of other financial variables.

But, even though the estimates are hypothetical, what’s clear is that career breaks could have a substantial impact on superannuation balances by the time a person reaches their retirement.

The earlier a career break is taken, and the longer the break, the bigger the potential financial impact. 

Table 1: Estimated impact of career break on superannuation balance at retirement 


Age at which the break starts

Break Length (years)












Notes: These are highly stylised estimates for the purpose of illustration only and represent the estimated impact, in today’s dollars, on an individual’s superannuation balance as at age 67 as a result of foregone Super Guarantee (SG) contributions during a career break starting at a particular age. The figures are based an assumed SG rate of 10.5% (being the current SG rate, noting also that legislation has specified that this rate will increase in future) and adjusted for CPI (assumed at 2.5%) and real wage growth (assumed at 1.5%), and rounded to the nearest $100. For the purposes of this illustration it has also been assumed that SG contributions made at age x are invested when the individual turns age (x+1), and that the foregone contributions would have achieved a consistent annual earnings rate equal to CPI plus 4% net of fees, costs, taxes and inflation. Actual performance of superannuation products may differ. The estimates have been determined based on the following assumed annual salaries which reflect median gross wage data reported in the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Census 2021:

– Wage at age 25: $41,500

– Wage at age 35: $60,000

– Wage at age 45: $63,000

The above estimates of the impact of foregone SG contributions are not general or personal advice. They do not take into account the actual situation, financial objective or needs of any particular person and are not intended to be relied on for the purpose of making a decision about a financial product. Consider obtaining advice from an Australian financial services licensee before making any financial decisions.

Source: Vanguard

Making extra super contributions

One obvious way to offset the impact of foregone superannuation contributions from taking a career break is to make additional super contributions, either before or after the break.

The Vanguard study found that those who contribute extra into their superannuation funds are significantly more likely to feel prepared and confident in funding their retirement lifestyle.

This was evidenced by 36% of those presenting themselves as being highly confident make regular additional superannuation contributions .

Most notably, only 5% of those who presented themselves as lacking direction make regular additional contributions to their superannuation.

To read the full How Australia Retires study, click here.

Source: Vanguard May 2023

Reproduced with permission of Vanguard Investments Australia Ltd

Vanguard Investments Australia Ltd (ABN 72 072 881 086 / AFS Licence 227263) is the product issuer. We have not taken yours and your clients’ circumstances into account when preparing this material so it may not be applicable to the particular situation you are considering. You should consider your circumstances and our Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) or Prospectus before making any investment decision. You can access our PDS or Prospectus online or by calling us. This material was prepared in good faith and we accept no liability for any errors or omissions. Past performance is not an indication of future performance.

© 2023 Vanguard Investments Australia Ltd. All rights reserved.


Any information provided by the author detailed above is separate and external to our business and our Licensee. Neither our business nor our Licensee takes any responsibility for any action or any service provided by the author. Any links have been provided with permission for information purposes only and will take you to external websites, which are not connected to our company in any way. Note: Our company does not endorse and is not responsible for the accuracy of the contents/information contained within the linked site(s) accessible from this page.

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on print
Share on email