WOMEN retiring in this year will be £6,400 a year worse off than men, with research from financial giant Prudential finding that females can expect an average retirement income of £14,300 while for males the average is £20,700.

This means the retirement income gender gap has grown by £1,000 over the past year and is at its highest for three years.

Kirsty Anderson, a retirement income specialist at Prudential, said: “The gender gap in retirement income continues to grow, probably reflecting the fact that many women will enter retirement having taken career breaks and changed their working patterns to look after dependants. Unfortunately, as a result, many women will end up with smaller personal pension pots.”

The gender gap at retirement reflects the pay gap during women’s working lives. Women in full-time work earn 13.9 per cent less than men, according to the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality. The accumulative effect of lower pay during their careers can have a big impact on women’s retirement income.

For example, figures from Prudential show that a 20-year old man who earns £20,000 a year and saves 10 per cent of his annual salary into his company or personal pension can look forward to a fund of £352,947 when he retires at 65, assuming annual salary increases of two per cent and a fund growth rate of four per cent.

A woman on £18,000 a year – 10 per cent less – could expect a pension fund of £317,652, a difference of more than £35,000. If you factor in a career break, the pension inequality is even more stark.

If, for example, the same woman took a five-year career break at the age of 30 the value of her pension fund at 65 would drop to £275,910, making it more than £77,000 less than that of her male contemporary.

Thanks to the gender pay gap there is also a gap between the amount that men and women receive in employer pension contributions. Last year, on average, men under the age of 35 received £217 more in employer pension contributions than females of the same age, according to the Zurich Workplace Savings Barometer.

Royal London policy director Steve Webb, who served as pensions minister during the Coalition Government, said: “Just as women still face disadvantages in the labour market, these differences persist into retirement. Company and private pensions are still generally bigger for higher earners, which tend to favour men. Until we have equality in the workplace we won’t have equality in pensions.”

Low earners might also miss out on a decent workplace pension. The Government’s automatic enrolment initiative makes it compulsory for employers to automatically enrol eligible workers into a company pension scheme. Employers must also make a contribution to the scheme, but to be eligible a worker must be earning at least £10,000 a year – and many women could fall foul of the eligibility requirement.

A recent survey by Drewberry Wealth, a financial adviser, found that 24 per cent of all employed women earn less than £11,000 a year, primarily because they often work part time.

Neil Adams, head of pension planning at Drewberry Wealth, said: “Unfortunately, the current inequality in earnings between the sexes is clearly reflected in the difference in pension income enjoyed by retirees in this country. While auto-enrolment has made great strides in enfranchising the lowest earners, the big worry is that almost a quarter of working women will fall below the £10,000 a year earning limit for auto-enrolment.”

So, what can women do to try to narrow the pension gap?

If you are a member of a workplace pension, consider boosting your payments to the scheme, particularly if your employer matches your contributions.

“It’s the pension equivalent of buy one get one free - you pay in £1 and your employer pays in £1,” Mr Webb said. “If you take into account government tax relief, a basic-rate taxpayer could turn an 80p contribution into £2 overnight.”

Women who are not eligible for automatic enrolment might also be able to opt in to the scheme. A generous employer might consider pay into the pension if they do, although that would not be compulsory.

You might also want to think about delaying your retirement. Many people choose to buy an annuity with their pension fund at retirement because it pays a guaranteed income for life. But the longer your life expectancy, the lower the annuity rate. For example, a woman aged 65 with a pension fund of £50,000 could expect to buy an annual annuity income of £2,461. If she delayed retirement until she was 70, her annual income would rise to £2,818, according to figures from Retirement Advantage, a pension specialist.

Working longer can also boost your state pension. If you defer your state pension by a year, you will get an extra 5.8 per cent, which is the equivalent of £479 a year based on the current state pension. If you take a career break, you do not have to take a break from pension contributions. Assuming you have enough income, or an obliging partner, non-earners can pay up to £2,880 a year into a pension, which amounts to £3,600 after tax relief.

Adams said: “If nothing else, there are a great many married women in this country whose spouses could fund this on their behalf. At least they would then have some pension savings of their own that they could add to in later years if the opportunity arises.”