A BlackRock survey of 4,000 American investors released earlier this year found that 53 percent of women had started saving for retirement, compared with 65 percent of men. And among those who'd started saving money, women had accumulated less than half the amount men had: $34,900 versus $76,800.
That lines up with other surveys, including one released earlier this year by market research firm Mintel, which found women are much more likely than men to have saved less than $50,000 for retirement, and lagged men "considerably" at higher amounts.
Some of the difference can be attributed to the gap in wages between men and women—of more than 100 occupations with comparable earnings data tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2014, men earned more than women in all but one category (stock clerks and order fillers). So even if women contribute the same percentage of their income as men do to their retirement accounts, the amount is likely to be smaller.
The BlackRock survey also noted a divergence in savings behaviors. While 45 percent of men surveyed said they were willing to take on a high risk in order to achieve a good return on investment, just 28 percent of women felt the same. The firm also found that among female investors, cash represents a greater proportion of their investments than for men: 68 percent compared to 59 percent. (That may seem like a good call lately, given the market volatility, but over time stocks have consistently outperformed cash equivalents, such as U.S. Treasury bills, bank certificates of deposits and money market accounts.)
Robyn Kaiserman, a financial services analyst at Mintel, said that past research suggests women sometimes simply default into cash equivalents because they don't understand their plan options, and then leave the money there. "For whatever reason, [we've found] men are just far more interested in financial topics than women and are more aggressive about research," she said.
Women are also less likely to increase contributions when they get a raise, she added, missing out on potential returns on the additional contributions. "It all costs them a lot," said Kaiserman. "I find it very disheartening to see that women in particular still aren't doing what they need to do [to build wealth], and I don't know why."