Women and men are both participating in their workplace 401(k) retirement plans, but women are saving less than men.
On average, women save 7.5% of their pay in retirement accounts, according to Aon Hewitt, compared to 8.7% for men. Not surprisingly, women also have smaller retirement account balances.
Virginia Maguire, Aon Hewitt’s director of retirement products and solutions, cites three main reasons for this gender-based savings gap:
“We know that often women make less money than men doing the very same jobs, so there is a gap there,” she says.
Also, she adds, women are more likely to take time off from work to care for parents or children, leading to an additional loss of income.
And finally, “We quantified that women were saving a full percentage point less than men on average. When you take all those three things together,” she concludes, “it’s not surprising that they have lower retirement balances than men.
Women employees have an average of $71,060 in their retirement accounts, compared to an average of $119,150 for men.
If that isn’t bad enough, women are less likely than men to have an emergency fund, according to Maguire, making them more likely to pull money out of their 401(k) to pay for unexpected expenses, such as health care costs.
Once their children are grown and leave home, both genders take the opportunity to save more in their tax-deferred retirement accounts, but men take advantage of this more frequently than women, notes Maguire. “When they have the opportunity to save more, they don’t,” she says.
Exacerbating the discrepancy, women also tend to live longer and will need to support themselves for longer periods during retirement.
“On average, women have to work a year longer to have the same retirement adequacy as men,” Maguire explains. “They’re funding a longer retirement period than a man would fund.”
How employers can help
Employers can help women close the retirement savings gap by offering tools and professional resources to help them better manage their day-to day expenses and long-term financial plans. Such solutions, Maguire says, are trusted—and therefore used—to a much greater extend, if they come from an employer as opposed to the open market.
Employees, she notes, “have some sense of trust that the employer is vetting these procedures and solutions.”
Employers, however, need to ensure that the tools and educational materials they offer are unbiased and in their employees’ best interest—something that is highlighted by the Department of Labor’s new a fiduciary ruling.
For their part, employers are putting greater emphasis on their employees’ financial wellbeing. In 2015, 49% of organizations Aon Hewitt surveyed indicated that employee financial wellness was important to them. When they were resurveyed this year, 58% said it was important.
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