Olivia Mitchell, International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans: Extended 2011 IA 25 Profile

Americans don't plan for retirement, but women are in special danger

This is an extended version of the profile that appeared in the May issue of Investment Advisor, part of AdvisorOne's Special Report profiling this year's members of the IA 25, the most influential people in and around the advisor universe. See the complete list and Special Report schedule for extended profiles of all the 2011 members of the IA 25.

When you think of retirement research, two people immediately come to mind—Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College and Olivia Mitchell, whose titles and C.V. stretch a bit further. But here goes:

International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans professor, department chair and professor of insurance and risk management, executive director of the Pension Research Council, and director of the Boettner Center for Pensions and Retirement Research at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, to name a few.

Olivia MitchellAnd let’s not forget her consulting work with the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, U.S. Social Security Administration, U.S. Government Accounting Office, U.S. Treasury, World Bank and the Japanese Government.

Her focus of late has been on women and retirement, an area where women have a serious problem, Mitchell says. They have a disturbing lack of financial literacy. While people in general are far less financially literate than they think, she says, women lag behind men in terms of understanding not just complex financial concepts, but also simpler ones. They fail to plan for retirement, despite their longer life spans and the fact that they are far more likely to end their lives alone.

“The big picture is that most Americans don’t plan for retirement. … We’ve done a number of studies on financial literacy—how well people understand basic economic concepts. Women are generally less financially literate. … People don’t get [longevity expectations] right either!” Mitchell says. "Along numerous fronts, we conclude that financial literacy and education are a very high priority for women. They live longer, and are more likely to be widowed and left alone in retirement without having made financial provisions during their lifetime. I’m hopeful that the next generation will be a little more savvy—partly because women are earning a little more, and they are spending more of their lives not being married.”

As are we, and Mitchell’s work will certainly help the cause.

Read more about the rest of the IA 25.

Don't see someone on this year's IA 25 that you think belongs there? Submit their name and your justification for why they should be considered among the most influential people in and around the advisor universe in the Comments field below. We promise to consider reader nominations, but please, no ad hominem attacks on those who were named in this or past years.--Ed.

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