Millennial women have made up the educational gap that used to exist between women and men, but they still lag in income earnings potential and in the percentage of their personal income they’re saving for retirement, according to new research from T. Rowe Price.

“Millennials are the biggest generation. They are the future, and women have made up the educational gap in the workforce,” says Anne Coveney, senior manager of retirement thought leadership for T. Rowe Price.

In its research, T. Rowe Price found that 43% of millennial women and 42% of millennial men have a four-year college degree or higher, compared to only 28% of baby boomer women.

“Millennials have invested in educational attainment. …Women have closed the gap there and that is really positive. Education does correlate with income, usually, income earnings potential. I think they are poised to do really well, but they are saving a lower percentage of their personal income than men,” she adds.

In a recent survey of millennials who are working at the corporate level, T. Rowe Price found that millennials, including women, believe they should be saving between 9-10% of their annual income for retirement, so they know they need to save. The big question is why aren’t they?

T. Rowe Price found that 68% of millennials who are eligible to participate in their workplace 401(k) plan don’t. “A majority are newly tenured workers who have been with their current employer for two years or less,” according to the research.

Coveney believes it’s because they can’t afford to save more. Many millennials are saddled student debt and on the income side, millennial women have median incomes of $48,000 a year compared to $63,000 for men.

The median student loan debt for women was $20,000, while for men it was $14,000. And it’s taking women longer to pay down that debt because they make less.

Many plan sponsors are attempting to bridge the gaps between women and men in their ability to save for retirement. One way of doing that is by offering financial wellness programs that go beyond educating employees about retirement savings. These programs instead delve into issues like managing day-to-day expenses, paying off credit cards and student loan debt and how to purchase big-ticket items, like a home or a car.

Carla Dearing, CEO of SUM180, an online financial planning service, says that if plan sponsors aren’t focusing beyond the investment funds in their 401(k) plan, they are “really missing the mark.”

Many plan sponsors are very concerned about how involved they should get in this area, but it is difficult to engage in a discussion about finances without knowing the bigger picture, she says.

“If you don’t have the comprehensive view in mind, there is not much you can do to advise them on their 401(k),” she says.

Millennials are the first generation that rarely uses cash or check books, she says. Everything they spend is on credit or through digital services such as PayPal, Venmo or Apple Wallet.

“So millennials and millennial women have an even bigger challenge than ever knowing where everything is, knowing where their money is and where it is going. That is a really big issue,” says Dearing. “That is something very fundamental to financial wellness and something that people are losing a grip on with the technology tools.”

Moreover, she adds, finance and financial education are simply not very interesting topics for most people. “The ones who are interested in it are already doing it,” she says.

In addition to encouraging the use of online financial planning tools, another way to better engage millennials in general and women specifically is to take advantage of automated programs like automatic enrollment and automatic escalation. In T. Rowe Price’s research, 79% of millennials who were auto-enrolled into their workplace plan were happy about it and 47% wished they had been enrolled at a higher contribution rate.

Automatic escalation is another way to make sure employees are increasing their retirement savings as their earnings increase every year.

Many women work part-time because they are taking care of children or elderly parents and some companies are starting to offer retirement benefits to part-time employees.

“We see evidence of financial discipline. When millennials do have the opportunity, they are taking the right steps and are doing the right things. Whatever programs we can put in place is a good opportunity,” says Coveney.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Employee Benefit News content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access