It’s no secret that Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement. In fact, a recent survey by GoBankingRates found that 56% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement and 1-in-3 have no retirement savings at all. Yikes. But that’s just the beginning of the story. Look at what happens when we analyze retirement savings based on gender. According to a BlackRock study, 65% of men have begun saving for retirement, yet only 53% of women have done the same. And the women who are saving have accumulated about half the amount of their male counterparts – an average of $34,900 as opposed to $76,800 for men.
This gender disparity is known as the Retirement Savings Gap and there are some very real reasons for it. The first is women save less because we earn less. While income inequality certainly plays a factor, women also log in fewer hours and may exit the workforce for years in order to raise families. The BlackRock study found that only about half of women aged 25-44 work full-time, as opposed to more than three-quarters of men in that age group. Part-time work – or no work – usually means no 401(k).
In addition, women have typically looked to their partners to serve as their retirement savings vehicles. Our investment is in our families and we count on them to pay dividends in our later years. Here’s the problem with this mindset: whether by widowhood or divorce, the majority of us will outlive our marriages. In addition, we spend more money than men in retirement, often due to higher healthcare costs and longer lifespans. Saving less than men – when we actually need to save more – is the reason so many women find themselves in near-poverty during old age.
So how do we begin to shrink the Retirement Savings Gap? We start by boosting our financial literacy. While we’ve made great strides in recent years, most women still lack confidence when it comes to money and investing. Taking a class or attending a financial workshop geared toward women are great ways to begin the process. The more you actively pursue knowledge, the more you’ll want to engage in your financial future instead of standing on the sidelines, hoping it will all work out in the end.
It is also important to pay yourself first by contributing to an employer-sponsored plan or, if you are self-employed or not working, by setting up retirement accounts. Have the money withdrawn automatically and before you spend it on anything else. And then be sure to increase the amount you save on a regular basis – every six months, for example.
Lastly, develop concrete goals for your later years. Don’t try to guess what you’ll need in retirement; figure out what that number actually is. Work with a financial advisor, specifically one who understands the unique challenges female investors face, to develop a long-term financial plan which takes both your current situation and your aspirations into consideration. Your plan can, and should, be updated on a yearly basis or as your life changes.
Ninety percent of women will have to take charge of their finances at some point in their lives. Let’s make sure we have enough saved to do it with confidence.
This article originally appeared in Westlake Malibu Lifestyle Magazine.