Why Retirement is a Women’s Issue

Longer life expectancy and lower incomes for women can impact retirement

Women are dramatically worse off than men when it comes to retirement finances and poverty. The reasons are hardly mysterious but nonetheless create a compelling narrative, as laid out in an AARP fact sheet:

  • Women at age 65 will live, on average, 2.6 years longer than men — 20.5 more years versus 17.9 years for men.
  • At age 65, 75% of men are married and live in homes with two income streams. Only 45% of women are married at this age, meaning most women may have only their own incomes to live on.
  • While the wage gap between men and women is narrowing, this is not the case for older women. In 2012, women aged 55 and up had median earnings that were only 76% of men’s median earnings.
  • Due to their dominant roles as unpaid family caregivers, women have 12 fewer years at work than men.
  • Working less and for lower pay, women thus amass less retirement savings than men and also are entitled to smaller private pensions and lower Social Security benefits.
  • Sum it all up, and women in 2010 had median retirement income of only $15,072 versus $25,704 for men.
  • In 2011, poverty rates were 10.7% for women versus 6.2% for men age 65 and older.
  • Toss in their longevity edge, and it’s no wonder that more than 70% of nursing home residents are women, many of whom have exhausted their funds and are forced to rely on Medicaid for their support in later years.


To deal with these sobering retirement challenges, women must begin at younger ages to boost their savings rates and set aside enough money to fund at least an adequate retirement. To help turn these longer years into better years, not only women but also their families need to focus on several tactics recommended by financial experts:


Work longer. Each year a person defers retirement is one less year they have to fund retirement and one more year they can set aside funds to boost their retirement assets.


Spend less. Look at major spending categories, particularly housing expenses. Where can you cut? How can family members help? Don’t put this off. The sooner you trim, the longer your remaining resources will last.


Eliminate debt. Interest payments are really dead weight in retirement. Family members who help pay down your debt will not only feel better but, in the long run, save on future financial support.


Optimize Social Security. Women, especially those with spouses, need to do a better job of claiming all the Social Security benefits to which they are entitled. Their husbands, in turn, need to be more sensitive to the reality that by claiming their own benefits at younger ages, they also are reducing the survivors’ benefits their wives stand to receive.

Posted on: October 16, 2015
Philip Moeller is co-author of The New York Times bestseller, "Get What's Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security." He is working on a companion guide to Medicare that will be published in fall of 2016. Moeller currently writes for Money Magazine and PBS NewsHour's Making Sen$e, and is a research fellow at the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College.


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