As women move closer to retirement age, they can face unique challenges that men do not. For Women’s History Month, we wanted to look at one of the prevailing gender disparities in society that affects our aging population, and explore why it happens and what might be done about it.
Women and men set money aside throughout their working years with the hopes of retiring at the average age of 61. However, several factors have led women to have a harder time saving for retirement, and having enough to live off for the rest of their lives.
Women Live Longer
On average, women tend to live longer than men. This means there is greater financial need for women later in life, as they face extra financial risks such as the death of a spouse, inflation, and health costs. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a 65-year-old man would need $79,000 in savings, whereas a woman of the same age would need $104,000 if both wanted to have half the chance of covering health care expenses in retirement. If they wanted a 90% chance to cover all their health expenses, a man would need $144,000 and the woman $163,000.
Due to this difference, women tend to make up the majority of patients in care facilities, and have a substantially higher risk of living in poverty than men do past the age of 80.
One of the most impactful elements that lead to the retirement disparity are differences between men and women in the workforce. To start with, women earn only around 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. Black and hispanic women face the largest disparities, earning 61% and 53%, respectively, of what a white man earns.
In addition to earning less when they are working, women are more likely to take part-time positions, or take time off from their jobs, in order to provide caregiving services for their families. Women are nine times more likely than men to take part-time jobs to provide caregiving, and part-time positions do not offer the same retirement benefits that full-time positions can. Additionally, women spend around nine years less in the workforce than men, typically taking years off to provide childcare or care for elderly parents.
On top of this, women are typically offered less in retirement, or not offered retirement at all. Twenty seven percent of women say they are not offered any retirement benefits, whereas only 17% of men were not offered retirement benefits. According to a study by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, in 2017 only ten percent of women said they felt very confident in their ability to retire comfortably, compared to almost double that in men.
As a result, Social Security, while not designed to be the primary form of income for retired individuals, ends up accounting for the majority of elderly, unmarried women’s incomes. In 2014, 47% of these women relied on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.
The gender disparities that exist in the workforce have real and significant impacts on women not only throughout their working years, but also in their retirement, especially for women of color. Creating policy that ensures equality for women in the workforce not only impacts women of all ages, but specifically benefits our retired women.
Interested in learning more about the issues elderly women, and men, face? Passionate about ensuring the health and happiness of our rapidly aging population? Explore our Master’s and Doctorate programs in Gerontology.
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