Women can face unique challenges when planning for retirement. Let’s take a look at three of them.
First, women frequently step out of the workforce in their 20s, 30s, or 40s to care for children — a time when their job might just be kicking into high (or higher) gear.
It’s a noble cause, of course. But consider this: A long break from the workforce can result in several financial losses beyond the immediate loss of a salary.
In the near term, it can mean an interruption in saving for retirement and the loss of any employer match, the loss of other employee benefits like health or disability insurance, and the postponement of student loan payments. In the mid-term, it may mean a stagnant salary down the road due to difficulties re-entering the workforce and/or a loss of promotion opportunities. And in the long term, it may mean potentially lower Social Security retirement benefits because your benefit is based on the number of years you’ve worked and the amount you’ve earned. (Generally, you need about 10 years of work, or 40 credits, to qualify for your own Social Security retirement benefits.)
Second, women generally earn less over the course of their lifetimes. Sometimes this can be explained by family caregiving responsibilities, occupational segregation, educational attainment, or part-time schedules. But that’s not the whole story. A stubborn gender pay gap has women earning, on average, about 82% of what men earn for comparable full-time jobs, although the gap has narrowed to 89% for women ages 25 to 34 (1). In any event, earning less over the course of one’s lifetime often means lower overall savings, retirement plan balances, and Social Security benefits.
Third, statistically, women live longer than men (2). This means women will generally need to stretch their retirement savings and benefits over a longer period of time.
1) Pew Research Center, The Narrowing, But Persistent, Gender Gap in Pay, April 2018
2) NCHS Data Brief, Number 293, December 2017
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