While our country has come a long way on gender equality, the pay gap remains a prominent issue. It's felt in many aspects of women's lives, most significantly in retirement savings, a challenge for every American. Three statistics indicate just how much rougher the road to retirement is for women.
1. Women 65 and older are 80% more likely to be impoverished than men of the same age.
A 2016 study by the nonprofit National Institute on Retirement Security found that women 65 and older had an average income that was 25% below the average income of men 65 and older. Consequently, the women in the study were 80% more likely to be impoverished than the men. The study also found that women 75 to 79 were three times more likely to live below the poverty line than men of the same age. Single women and minorities were even more likely to live in poverty.
Several factors account for this disparity, including women's lower earnings. Women make $0.79 on average for every dollar earned by male counterparts. Therefore, they have to save more of each paycheck to retire with a similar amount of savings. Lower earnings throughout their working years also mean they end up with lower Social Security checks because these are based on average indexed monthly earnings during their 35 highest-earning years. Plus, women tend to live longer, meaning their savings must last longer.
2. Women need about $150,000 to cover retirement healthcare.
Fidelity's latest retirement healthcare survey says a 65-year-old woman retiring in 2019 needs an estimated $150,000 to cover her healthcare in retirement -- $15,000 more than the $135,000 needed by a 65-year-old man. Both numbers may seem high, but other surveys indicate these estimates could be low, especially for those with chronically poor health.
In either case, it's a tall order for women who are already earning less and requiring more retirement savings than men. But having retirement healthcare savings is crucial because a single severe illness could wipe out a large portion of your retirement savings. Even those on Medicare will have co-pays for most treatments, and some expenses may not be covered at all.
3. Women save 43% less for retirement than men, on average.
Though women need considerably more retirement savings than men, a 2018 Prudential survey found they actually save 43% less, on average. Nearly half the women surveyed had no retirement savings. Part of this has to do with women earning less than men. They must devote a larger portion of their paychecks to basic living expenses and cannot afford to save as much. Women are also much more likely to leave the workforce to care for children, and this time without income slows the growth of their retirement savings.
How women can save enough for a comfortable retirement
It's no surprise that nearly half the women Prudential surveyed are not confident that their savings will last until the end of their lives. But there are ways to improve that.
The first thing women should do is to create a retirement plan if they haven't already. Start by estimating your life expectancy and figure high. You could easily live past 90 or 95 if you're reasonably healthy. Next, calculate your estimated annual living expenses in retirement and multiply this by the number of years of your retirement, adding 3% annually for inflation. Finally, subtract any money you expect from Social Security or other sources including an employer 401(k) match. You can see your estimated Social Security benefit by creating a my Social Security account.
Next, open a retirement account if you don't have one already and save as much as you can. Try to limit discretionary purchases or boost your income by working overtime or starting an extra job. Take advantage of any employer 401(k) match you're offered and be mindful of your 401(k)'s vesting schedule if you plan to leave your job in the near future. If you leave before you're fully vested, you could lose some or all of your employer's match.
Educate yourself about investing and retirement planning, or hire a financial advisor if you're too busy. An advisor can give personalized financial recommendations and may have suggestions for increasing your retirement savings you hadn't thought of. Just make sure you choose a fee-only advisor instead of one who earns commissions for recommending certain investments -- this can create conflicts of interest.
If all that isn't enough, consider delaying your retirement by a few months or years. It will decrease how much you need to save for retirement while giving you more time to stash money away. By delaying the date you start claiming Social Security, your eventual benefits will grow, too.
There's no question women have it tougher than men in retirement savings. But with planning, they can still enjoy a comfortable retirement.