This year marks the 100 year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote. Yet issues of gender discrimination both within and outside of the workplace continue to be problematic, putting women at higher risk when it comes to retirement security than their male counterparts. While the recent passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminds us of the tremendous advances made in gender equality in recent decades, her legacy also reminds us of how far we still have to go to—and why. And the “why” is important, not just for women, but for the men in their lives.
The United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres stated that achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world. According to the UN’s platform on gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, gender equality is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development. Yet, as the UN points out, discrimination against women persists through laws and policies, gender-based stereotypes, and social norms and practices.
The pandemic has also shed light on women’s unequal footing. Economic challenges for women have intensified during the pandemic due to layoffs, furloughs, and extended periods of time spent working from home and juggling childcare, home schooling, and other responsibilities. A recent study looked at how women are faring economically during the pandemic and how confident they are about their financial future. The study found that:
- 24% of women say their confidence in their ability to retire comfortably has declined in light of the coronavirus pandemic, compared with 20% of men
- Only 17% of women are “very confident” that they will be able to fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle (significantly lower than the 30% of men who are “very confident”)
- 17% of women say they have no savings in a qualified retirement plan account, which is significantly higher than the 10% of men who cite not having retirement savings
- Only 19% of women have a written retirement strategy amid the pandemic, compared to 34% of men
While more than half of women (52%) and men (58%) report experiencing impacts to their own employment situations as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, women are somewhat more likely than men to have been laid off (16% of women vs. 11% of men) and furloughed (13% of women vs. 10% of men) in recent months.
Women who leave the workforce during their peak earnings years, due to a job loss or the need to care for an aging family member, may be particularly vulnerable. Not only does this impact their ability to aggressively save for retirement but may force many women to begin taking Social Security benefits earlier than planned, resulting in a significantly smaller monthly benefit for life than if they were able to wait until full retirement age or later to begin taking benefits.
5 Steps to a More Secure Retirement
Fortunately, there are steps women can take to plan for a more confident retirement at any age. Whether you’re seeking ways to shore up savings or determine when you can retire with the money you need to support your lifestyle, consider the following steps:
- Take care of yourself first. This can be a hard one for women who are often used to putting others’ needs first. But there are times when it’s critical to make your own needs paramount. For example, maintaining your ability to continue working as long as your desire requires taking care of your own physical and emotional health, keeping your job skills up to date and remaining open to learning new skills. Joining online networking groups (I personally do this on LinkedIn) can also be helpful for discovering new opportunities or obtaining career advice.
- Get involved. Taking an active role in your family finances, including budgeting and long-term planning is important for your long-term financial health. While the number of women managing their own money continues to grow, only half of women over age 55 report managing finances compared to 75% of women under 45, according to a recent survey.
- Save, save, save. The earlier you begin saving, the longer you’re able to benefit from long-term compounding, which can have an exponential effect on growth. Not only are you earning interest on your initial investment, but you’re earning interest on reinvested earnings. One of the best ways to save for retirement is through your employer retirement plan. Saving regularly through payroll deductions in a 401(k) or 403(b) plan is an easy and tax-smart way to help savings grow while realizing the benefits of tax-deferred compounding.
- Estimate how much you will need. Many people are surprised to learn how much of their income Social Security will actually replace in retirement. According to the Social Security Administration, for the average earner, benefits only replace about 40% of pre-retirement income. That makes other sources, such as a pension, employer retirement plan savings, and personal savings critical for meeting all of your lifestyle needs in retirement. The best way to estimate how much you may need to meet all of your income needs for 20, 30 or more years in retirement is to work with an independent financial advisor.
- Don’t go it alone. An independent financial advisor will not only help you determine how much you need to save but structure a path toward your goals. That includes determining what steps you can take now to get back on track or simply stay the course toward your goals. Choosing the right advisor for your needs is important. Make sure your advisor is someone you can trust to be a good listener to understand the challenges and opportunities you and your family face. And make sure your advisor serves in a fiduciary capacity, requiring that your needs—not your advisor’s—drive every financial and investment decision.
To learn more about planning for a confident retirement, download our step-by-step guide to help ensure your assets last a lifetime: 3 Methods to Help Avoid Running Out of Money.