Over the past 60 years, women have entered the education system and the workforce in greater numbers than ever before, and it would seem that because of this work, they'd be on equal footing with men when it comes time to retire.
But it's not the case.
"The problem is that we don't exactly know what the problem is," says Mary Nell Billings, director of retirement benefits at Hilton Worldwide and one of EBN's contributing editors. "But we do know a few things. What a lot of women do is take time out of the workforce, which reduces all the benefits, which also impacts how far you're promoted. The longer and more continuously you're employed, the more upwardly mobile you are."
Women still make 80 cents to every dollar a man makes, which means not only are they making less, they have less to contribute to a 401(k). Women also are predominantly in the 40 lowest-paying professions classified by the Department of Labor.
Women are also increasingly choosing not to get married; the percentage of married women declined from 72% to 62% between 1970 and 2009, according to Women in America, a report written for the White House Council on Women and Girls. Women are, on average, more educated and hold more post-secondary degrees than men, and they are living longer by at least five years.
A single female, earning $50,000 a year and not covered by a defined benefit plan, has an 82% chance of outliving her financial assets in retirement, according to Americans for a Secure Retirement.
Flexible work options, financial education in the workplace, and 401(k) plans with options for annuities and long-term disability insurance are a few things in the control of employers and human resource departments. These types of programs can benefit all employees, not just women.
"Male or female, there is a significant lack of access to good advice for the average worker. We know that doctors and CEOS are getting good advice from planners the minute they get out of school, while others who get to basic college and get into the work world don't make it through the door of someone who would set up a long-term or short-term plan for them," says Kym King, senior sales representative for employee benefits at OneAmerica Financial Partners, Inc., who has spoken on women's need for life insurance. "Before we even talk about how much coverage she needs, we need to look to the employer to provide good access to planning."
Thirty-seven percent of women rely on friends and family for retirement planning advice, according to a survey by Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. But employers have a crucial role to play. The workplace is "sometimes the first time they encounter the [retirement [planning] information," says Alane Dent, vice president of retirement security at the American Council of Life Insurers.
Also, choosing a plan that is portable can be an important factor in the success of a woman's retirement savings. Because she might be moving from job to job, the need to take the retirement plan with her is paramount. In addition, it's important to educate employees that if they do leave their job, it's rarely a good idea to withdraw the money from their 401(k).
"Some people move it over, but a lot of women will take it and pay off family debt or a child's education, so any time you have them coming in or out there is temptation to get the money out," says Billings. She also says that eliminating or decreasing the waiting period for contributing to a 401(k) should be considered; that way, women coming back to work would be able to play catch-up to some degree.
Annuities also have a role to play in protecting women against longevity risk, say some industry experts. "Coming out of retirement plans with cost-effective ways to purchase a life income annuity with all or part of their distribution protects them, to some degree, from longevity risk. Since women live longer than men, it's a bigger risk," says Dallas L. Salisbury, president and CEO of the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
Women take an average of seven years out of the workforce to act as caregivers. These are years when they cannot contribute to a 401(k), are not being paid on a regular basis, and they are not counted as working years for the purposes of Social Security.
"Employers can absolutely play a role in providing a flexible workplace that can maximize the productivity of employees and inspire loyalty by providing simple accommodations, and I think the baby boomers will demand it," says Ramsey Alwin, director of the Economic Security Initiative at the National Council on Aging.
The risk of disability or premature death is also greater than many people realize. Almost four in 10 men (38%) recently entering the labor force, and three in 10 women (31%), will become disabled or die before reaching the full retirement age, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Because women tend to earn less than men, take more time out of the paid workforce, live longer, accumulate less savings and receive smaller pensions, women pay 40% of Social Security payroll taxes but receive 49% of Social Security benefits. Long-term disability insurance is an important product for employees to consider.
"You can't rely on Social Security. For anyone in any occupation, it'll be inadequate if you're severely disabled. So if you're using it as your front line of defense, your standard of living will be compromised," says King.
King admits that when she visits employers, she ends up addressing men and women differently, knowing that the woman is more likely to be the planner in the family.
In fact, one-fourth of women are the primary decision-makers in household finance decisions, and 95% are involved in some way, according to a Prudential Financial survey. Yet 40% of married women will leave retirement planning to a spouse, and 30% say they have no idea what their main source of retirement income will be, according to a survey from ING Direct USA.
"Was it one of those seven years where the financial education was being given and you missed it? You would think that you would come back and want to buy into insurance even more," King says. She points to a marketing gap in her own industry. "Why aren't we playing catch-up with them if they are really are missing?" she asks.
But, she says, "no one wants to be the carrier that puts out a piece of material that says 'Hey girl, you're behind.'"
Statistics at a glance
Women express less confidence in their outlook for retirement and have saved less than men, according to data from Wells Fargo. Its sixth annual retirement survey finds that a majority of women are unsure or unrealistic about what their annual withdrawals should be in retirement and are wary of the stock market as a place for investment gains. The survey found:
* Just 54% of women said they are "confident" they will have enough saved to "live the life they want" in retirement, compared to 62% of men.
* Almost 30% of women between the ages of 40 and 69 are "not sure or can't estimate" how much they will need to withdraw from their retirement savings annually while in retirement, and about 32% of women in their 40s and 50s estimate they will withdraw 11% to 30% or greater each year.
* Although both men and women are underfunded for retirement, women have saved less than men - a median of $20,000, compared to $25,000 for men. Women also set their sights lower than men: Whether married or single, when asked how much they thought they'd need to support them during retirement, women said they're aiming for a median of $200,000, whereas men predict they'll need retirement savings of $400,000.
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