Take Control of Your Financial Future and Overcome Gender-Based Challenges
Imagine how much easier it would be to manage your finances if change were not an ever-present dynamic. Of course, change is a fact of life – and life would be pretty boring without it! But change can certainly make long-term financial management difficult. Without insight into the future and what might transpire, planning presents plenty of challenges.
“Change is a fact of life – and life would be pretty boring without it! But change can certainly make long-term financial management difficult.”
Life expectancy is one of the many unpredictable variables at play. My mother-in-law just turned 100 – amazing! She never expected to live that long, and even if she did, how could she or anyone else effectively plan for the income needed to last all of those years? Meanwhile, my husband’s sister passed away unexpectedly in her early 60s – a reminder that trying to anticipate our own mortality based on that of our immediate family members is pretty much futile.
Less profound changes can also have a major impact on our financial situation. For many years, my husband was the main source of income in our family. Due to changes in the economy, a few years ago I suddenly became the top breadwinner.
This change prompted me to wonder, were we saving enough for retirement? We certainly were at one time, but now I had to take a hard look at our situation. And I realized that I really wasn’t sure if we were still on track to reach our goals.
As a female Baby Boomer, I’ll admit that this realization was a little scary. We all see the statistics on the number of Baby Boomers retiring every day – shouldn’t I be ready to join that movement any day now? But I quickly discovered I was not alone in my fears. Talking with my close friends, I was amazed to find that many of us were in the same boat. Of course, when you consider the many unique challenges women face in retirement planning, it’s not surprising that my female friends shared my same fears and difficulties.
In this article, I will discuss some of those challenges, share some interesting findings about women and investing, and offer some advice for how both women and men can work to improve their retirement preparedness.
The Retirement Readiness Gender Gap
Americans as a whole are drastically under-saved for retirement. According to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute, nearly half of all families have no retirement-account savings at all.1 Women are disproportionately impacted by this shortfall for a number of reasons. Consider the socioeconomic factors that are creating obstacles for women in America today:
- Women currently live longer than men. According to the World Health Organization, a female born in 2015 can expect to live nearly five years longer than a male born in the same year.2 The possibility that I may live longer means I have a greater chance of needing more income to sustain me through those extra years. And don’t forget to factor in the medical expenses that will likely accompany an extended lifespan.
- Women continue to earn less than men. On average, full-time female workers in the U.S.make only 80 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2015, a gender wage gap of 20 percent. And the gap is even larger for women of color: Hispanic and Latina women were paid only 54 percent of what white men were paid in 2015, while African American women earned 63 percent that of their male counterparts.3 Consider the impact of that disparity over the course of 20 years. This wage gap becomes even more detrimental if you’re a woman who happens to be the primary breadwinner in a male-dominated industry. You’ll need to work quite a bit longer than your male co-workers to make up for the wage gap and generate adequate retirement savings.
- An increasing number of women are having children later in life, having spent their younger years establishing careers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015, birth rates declined for women in their 20s but increased for women in their 30s and early 40s.4 I personally had my son in my 30s, which meant my husband and I had to save for his college and our own retirement simultaneously. For those of us who had children on the later side, how many of us really thought about saving for retirement early in our careers? Yet we were likely more able to afford to save before we had families to provide for.
Investing Confidence and Financial Knowledge
With all of these factors working against them, women have very different outlooks on retirement than men. Indeed, Jackson’s recent investor survey revealed some significant disparities. In addition to the gender pay gap, there also appears to be an investing confidence gap between men and women. While 46.2% of men reported that they “have plenty of investing confidence,” only 30.3% of women said the same. When asked about their current level of financial knowledge, less than 10% of female respondents stated that they “have all the financial knowledge [they] need to make appropriate investing decisions,” compared to more than 17% of male respondents. Lastly, the gender pay gap could be at least part of the reason women are more concerned than men when it comes to saving for retirement. 52.4% of women cited “saving enough for retirement” as a top financial concern, compared to only 42.7% of men.5
The Keys to Overcoming Retirement Challenges
I’ve focused a lot on the differences between men and women, but the bottom line is, we all face a lot of challenges in pursuing our retirement goals. That’s why I want to share five ideas to help you get started on your retirement education – whether you’re a man or a woman.
“The bottom line is, we all face a lot of challenges in pursuing our retirement goals.”
- Take a step to educate yourself. Countless blogs and websites provide accessible, engaging content to help increase your financial knowledge, including the Financial Freedom Studio, Jackson Charitable Foundation and many more. Just Google “retirement planning” or “financial education” and you’ll see my point. I’m probably dating myself, but you could also go to the good ol’ fashioned library or a bookstore to get this kind of information. For younger women just getting started, Learnvest.com can be a great resource, too.
- If you’re married, you need to be an active and involved participant in conversations about finances. Remember, your situation could change unexpectedly at any time, just like mine did. Even if your spouse handles most finances now, you still need to take equal control of your retirement planning – particularly if you might outlive your spouse.
- Consider the guidance of a professional advisor. If thinking about saving for retirement overwhelms you, consider working with an advisor to help you set goals and make informed investment decisions. Seek recommendations from friends, or gather a group of friends together to interview potential advisors. Meeting with multiple advisors before making a decision will help ensure you find someone who is the right fit for your needs.
- Don’t think it’s too late to start. It’s never too late. Don’t let discouragement deter you from getting started.
- Remember that there are many different definitions of “retirement.” You don’t have to attain some preconceived ideal. To reference our survey again, though the largest percentage of our respondents said they planned on a traditional retirement (i.e., leaving the workforce entirely between ages 65 and 70), a significant portion also reported making the forced or unforced choice to put off retirement or transition to a second career.6
Choose the path that makes sense for you. Though it may not be easy, do what you can to work toward your goal with determination, making the time and effort to make informed, confident decisions.
Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.