Personal Finance

Why women are less prepared for retirement than men

Key Points
  • Only 62% of women have a plan to help protect themselves against outliving their savings, versus 76% of men, according to a recent study by Nationwide Advisory Solutions.
  • Women face unique savings challenges, such as longer lifespans and higher health-care costs.
  • Here are some steps women can take to jump-start their savings for retirement.
Sam Edwards | Getty Images

For women, the salary gap they face in their working years eventually turns into a retirement savings gap.

Only about 6 in 10 women have a plan to keep them from outliving their savings once they retire, according to a recent study by Nationwide Advisory Solutions. Among men, it's more than 3 out of 4.

The firm polled about 1,021 financial advisors and 824 investors in February and March.

"We're in an industry that is inherently addressing the issues of men," said Kristi Rodriguez, leader of the Nationwide Retirement Institute at Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide. "We have to instill confidence in female investors."

Unique obstacles

Examining the Wall Street gender gap
Examining the Wall Street gender gap

Women face unique challenges when saving for retirement. For one, they live longer than men — on average by six to eight years, according to the World Health Organization.

They're also subject to higher health-care costs.

A woman retiring at age 65 in 2019 is likely to pay around $150,000 in health-care costs throughout retirement, while the number drops to $135,000 for men, according to an annual analysis by Fidelity Investments released earlier this year.

Women also tend to spend more time away from work to care for children. Once they return, they can fall behind in rank and miss out on opportunities for promotion.

We're in an industry that is inherently addressing the issues of men. We have to instill confidence in female investors.
Kristi Rodriguez
Nationwide Retirement Institute

This "motherhood penalty" costs women $16,000 a year in lost wages, according to an analysis of Census data by the nonprofit advocacy organization National Women's Law Center in 2018.

Financial advisors must address these obstacles and ensure women feel comfortable discussing these challenges.

"You can find an advisor that meet the needs of both you and your spouse," Rodriguez said. "But what is important is to find someone who creates that environment to make you feel welcome."

Build a strong retirement plan

Rob Daly | Getty Images

Ask for more money. Women earn $25 an hour on average, only 79% of the $32 an hour their male counterparts make, according to a study from the ADP Research Institute.

When you're negotiating your salary, base that number on your needs, including your lifestyle, savings plan and emergency fund, said Zaneilia Harris, president of Harris and Harris Wealth Management Group in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

"You build your life around your saving, as opposed to building your life around your expenses," she said.

Find a financial advisor. Work with a professional you can trust and who has an understanding of your needs, said Harris. Ask them what percentage of their client base are women.

Be sure to vet your advisor. Dig up his or her background on the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's BrokerCheck site and on the Securities and Exchange Commission's investment advisor public disclosure page.

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You should also confirm in writing that this individual is a fiduciary and places your best interests above his or her own.

Consider your retirement income. Work with your advisor to figure out your anticipated income needs in retirement and come up with a withdrawal strategy.

That's because multiple investment accounts, including your traditional 401(k) and Roth accounts, have different tax treatments, said Harris.

Don't wait. "If you don't do anything and then you look up and it's 10 years later and you're closer to retirement, now you're stressed out," Harris said. "The burden is now on you of 'Will I save enough before retirement?'"