Americans Lack Understanding, Concern for Disabilities’ Effects

Women especially at risk financially and emotionally

Despite the risks posed by disability in retirement, many Americans don’t understand their chances of becoming disabled, a report released May 8 by the American College found.

Confidence in ability to manage day-to-day tasks with disability

The vast majority of Americans don’t realize arthritis is the leading cause of disability. Thirty percent believed workplace accidents were the main cause of disabilities. Back and spine problems were the second most common cause of disabilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control, far more common than the next leading cause of disability, heart trouble.

Even more worrisome, just 16% of survey respondents said they had thought about how they would get by if someone in their family became disabled. Nearly three-quarters said their cash reserves wouldn’t carry them through the year.

The report noted that women are particularly at risk. They are more likely to suffer a disability than men, and 66% of women surveyed said they were not confident they could afford basic living expenses.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 37% of Americans 65 or older suffer a severe disability and 11% have some disability. Among adults 21 to 64, 11% have a severe disability and 6% have some disability. The report found, however, that most respondents believe they won’t suffer a disability. Half of women and 57% of men said their chances of becoming disabled were less than 5%. Even temporary disabilities are of little concern; just 15% of all respondents said they were concerned about being disabled for a year.

Although 25% of women and 35% of men are extremely or very confident they could cover basic expenses if they suffered a disability, the report estimates that even those low levels of confidence are misplaced. “Two-thirds of both women and men have not calculated how much their household would need each month if they were unable to work due to a disability,” according to the report. “It is likely that if the calculations had taken place, confidence levels would be even lower.”

Americans need to be educated about disabilities and their risk of becoming disabled, the report concluded. Fifty-eight percent of respondents were not aware that the average long-term disability claim lasts at least one year. Eighty percent of respondents incorrectly believed or weren’t sure whether men are more likely than women to become disabled for three months or longer (they’re not).

Advisors could take advantage of their relationships with clients to further that education, especially among their female clients. Of respondents who work with a financial advisor, 37% of women and 52% of men have discussed disability with their advisors. The disparity between men who have talked to their advisor about disability and women who have done the same may be a consequence of respondents’ perception that a male spouse’s disability would be more devastating to the family. Less than a third of married men said their wife’s disability would be totally devastating or close to it. Sixty-one percent of married women said it would be totally devastating or close to it if their husband became disabled.

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