A few years ago, a popular book made the rounds: Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. The aim of author John Gray was to help both men and women understand their fundamental differences in communication styles in order to promote healthier, more satisfying relationships. While gender stereotypes are almost always risky, the author was operating on a valid assumption: there are fundamental differences between men and women that go beyond physiology. While some may argue that these differences are imposed by society and culture, the fact remains that for women, the challenges posed by the workplace, career expectations, and the need to save for retirement are significantly different than those faced by their male counterparts.
One important difference concerns the challenge posed by women’s typically longer lifespans, combined with their typically shorter opportunities for high-earning years in the workplace. According to the latest National Vital Statistics Reports from the CDC, women live, on average, five years longer than men of the same age. With lifespans in general increasing across the spectrum, this means that women in transition—especially those planning for retirement—should assume they will need income through age 100. But according to recent studies, women can expect to spend only about 66% of their adult life in the workforce, compared to the average 72% for men. In other words, women are in a double bind: they will likely live longer, but they will have fewer years of gainful employment in which to save for their longer retirement.
What can women do to address these special challenges? First, they need to reject the societal and personal taboos around financial conversation and information. To do this, women may need to exert some extra effort. For example, while many financial services firms routinely advertise in men’s magazines such as Esquire, Men’s Health, and others, such ads are typically lacking in publications that cater to women. Of 1,594 pages of editorial content from leading women’s magazines surveyed in March 2018, fewer than 1% of pages covered personal finance.
Next, women need to recognize their longevity for the asset that it is. Women can take advantage of their longer lifespans by getting started early with disciplined savings programs. Even if they are only able to set aside smaller amounts, the greater number of years available to women can enable them to leverage compounding and growth to their advantage.
Third, women should acknowledge the special financial challenges they face. The ongoing wage gap that limits women to earning 82 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts will yield only to time and the determination of women who know their true value in the workplace—and insist that it be recognized in the form of raises, bonuses, and other compensation. In the meantime, women should focus more purposefully on saving, taking maximum advantage of 401Ks and other tax-favored plans.
Finally, women should place a premium on planning. Investing in a relationship with a professional, certified financial advisor who understands the special challenges faced by women can provide more and better tools, knowledge, and confidence for meeting long-term retirement goals.
I specialize in helping women in transition and other women professionals and entrepreneurs build successful, customized plans for meeting their most important financial goals. If you would like to learn more, please contact my office for a no-obligation appointment. To read my recent article, “Women-Owned Businesses: Getting the Breaks You Deserve,” just click here.
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