Happy penguin jumps for joy
R.I.P. Gerry Rafferty

Is retirement different for women?

Question mark I was asked in a recent interview if retirement is different for women.  Here is the answer I gave:

Yes! I think it is.

I think the main advantage for women is that we're more likely to have a supportive network of family and friends around us than men are. And I think that we're more willing to admit that we don't know things and to seek out help when we need it than men. I apologise in advance to any men reading this and it's a cliche, but it's a good example, that when women get lost when they're out driving, they stop and ask for directions. I'm sure many women readers will have experienced men who would never dream of asking for directions - they just carry on driving in the hope that they'll eventually find their way again. In the same way, I think that women are much more likely to seek out emotional support from family and friends than men are.

A recent report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission here in the UK says that 'Women are outstripping men in a dozen different ways that mean their lives are often better than men's lives are'.

It said women are more likely to be well-educated, less likely to lose their jobs in a recession, and more likely to look after their health, for example, by eating their five daily fruit and veggies and by visiting their doctor when they first start noticing symptoms. In contrast, men tend not to live as long as women, they're more likely to be overweight and they're three times more likely to take their own lives – presumably because they don't have those supportive networks to turn to.

So there are advantages to being a woman that will work in our favour in retirement...

The big disadvantage for women is a financial one, we're more likely to be poorer than men.  Although we’re more likely than our mother’s generation to have had jobs, we're still more likely than men to spend our retirement in poverty. According to a recent report, over three-fifths of single pensioner households here in Britain - many of which will be single female pensioner households, have a total income of less than £10,000 and another, American, report from the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement, said that more than 1 in 10 women live on less than $10,000 a year in retirement.

There are several reasons for this poverty and they're all to do with being female:

  • Women STILL make less money than men over the course of their working lifetimes, and they don't get as many promotions as men do

  • Women are more likely to have worked in low-paid jobs or to have worked part-time - my husband was a director of a company and I worked as a part-time lecturer. My salary went towards holidays and luxuries - it wasn't essential money, I didn't need to work full-time and I was more than happy not to. It wasn't until I became divorced that I started working full-time again because I couldn't afford to live on my part-time wage… 
  • In addition to all that, women are more likely to have had time out of the workplace due to raising kids or looking after elderly parents, so they have fewer years to build up their retirement savings.  At the same time, during the time that they are out of the workplace, they're also losing out on years of paying into a pension plan - and if that comes with an employer contribution, they're missing out on the employer's contribution too.
  • Most women who have children, have them during their most vital career-development years. Meanwhile, their male colleagues stay in the workforce, getting promotions and climbing the corporate ladder. When those women return to the workforce after the kids are in school, they're usually going back in at the same level that they left at years before, or, if they find that their skills are obsolete, they're going back in at a lower level. So all this puts women further behind in their careers and further behind with their retirement savings.
  • There are a couple of other things that contribute to women’s potential for poverty in retirement.  In addition to women generally earning less than men over the course of their lifetimes, they live longer, so any money they've managed to accumulate has to last them longer.

    Then we have the fact that women tend to take care of everyone else in the family before considering their own needs and so they tend to use their money to help someone else, rather than investing it for their retirement. They'll help their kids out, or they'll use their money to support their elderly relatives rather than putting it into a pension fund.

    And, finally, as far as investment matters are concerned, women tend to be more risk-averse by nature and therefore, they're more likely to be more conservative investors, which, of course, means that, by the time they retire, they probably won't have made as much money on their investments over the course of their working lives.

    Which is all a very long-winded way of saying, yes, I think retirement IS different for women...

    Doris If you're a single woman who is contemplating retirement, you might enjoy being a member of our free membership site: The Association of Retired Single Women. All you need to become a member is the determination to get the retirement you deserve, an enquiring mind and a willingness to share your thoughts and observations with the other single women on this site. Join us today!


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