Accumulating $1 million in retirement savings is symbolic, even if it means different things to different people.
It represents an aspirational amount of wealth to some, financial security to others or a milestone on the way to greater savings still. Of course, in a nation where 44 percent of the population does not have $400 saved for an emergency expense, reaching $1 million may seem unimaginable.
For a small but growing number of working women, however, it has become a reality.
Over the last 12 years, the share of women who have amassed sums of $1 million or more in their retirement plans has doubled, according to research conducted by the investment firm Fidelity, based on the 15 million participants in the 401(k) accounts it oversees. About 20 percent of its 401(k) millionaires were women as of the end of September, the firm found, up from just under 10 percent in the same period in 2005.
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"Part of it is that we've seen more women actively participating in 401(k) plans and contributing more," said Jeanne Thompson, a senior vice president at Fidelity Investments, who conducted the study. The firm said 133,000 people on its platform have achieved 401(k) millionaire status.
Financial professionals who work with women say they are not surprised that more women have crossed this threshold, particularly as more women understand the challenges they face. Women earn less than men but live longer and often spend more years out of the work force caring for young children or elderly parents.
"When I first started in the financial services industry 25 years ago, I noticed male colleagues would often share ideas and thoughts about investing and planning for retirement with each other but women really didn't," said Manisha Thakor, director of wealth strategies for women at Buckingham Strategic Wealth.
"In the intervening two and a half decades, we've seen the dramatic rise of female co- and primary breadwinners and, concurrently, the adoption of the 'this is information I need to know to protect my family' mind-set amongst women," she added.