Although the income gap between men and women is shrinking, there is still a sizeable gap in how well women are prepared for retirement compared to men. This retirement gap is a result of a number of reasons:
• Women live longer than men. On average, women live approximately 6 years longer than men, which means more years in retirement. Although more years in retirement may sound good, paying for those extra years can be challenging.
• Women earn less than men. The gap is shrinking, but women still earn an average of 24% less than men. This gap shows up in retirement as well, as women collect less Social Security and earn lower pensions.
• Women are more likely to take time away from the work force to care for children, aging parents, or other relatives. In addition to lost wages, this also means less opportunity to save for retirement, and less time to build Social Security benefits.
Whether it’s due to divorce, death of a spouse, or by choice, ninety percent of women will become totally responsible for their own welfare at some point in their life. No matter what stage of life you’re in, or whether you’re single or married, here are some tips to bridge the retirement gap:
1. Start early - women are more likely than men to wait to start investing. This could be because they are not in the workforce, or because they are afraid they will make a mistake. Because women live longer than men, we need to start saving earlier.
2. Set goals – whether you’re saving for retirement, college or a vacation, you’re more likely to achieve your goals if you have a map to follow.
3. Don’t be afraid to take risks – women are generally more cautious than men when it comes to investing. Get educated about investing and take appropriate risks to meet your goals.
4. Make retirement a priority – women are naturally caregivers, which often translates to putting everyone else’s needs in front of your own. You need to make saving for your retirement a priority, even when you’re not in the work force.
5. Get educated – learn as much as you can about money, investing and retirement. Take an active role in your finances even if you have a spouse who handles the finances for your family.
6. Work longer – Social Security retirement benefits are based on your age, how long you work and how much you earn. Many women make the mistake of taking Social Security as soon as they are eligible. You should work for as long as possible and for the highest salary possible to maximize your Social Security retirement benefits.
7. Understand your pension benefits. Most pensions have several payout options, including single life (based on the annuitant’s life only) and joint survivor benefits (where the spouse receives some benefit after the annuitant dies). Since women typically outlive their husbands, it’s important to understand these options and to choose the correct one for your situation.
The most important thing women can do to bridge the retirement gap is to take an active role in their finances, start early and to get educated. You will be responsible for your financial well-being at some point in your life, so you should prepare for that certainty now.