Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) individuals face countless struggles as they go through life, and a new study reveals that they are also much more fearful than average Americans of entering their retirement years.

Conducted by Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), the study finds that GLBT older Americans have significant anxieties over financial security in retirement, over a lack of personal support networks, and a strong fear of retiring alone. GLBT seniors are also less likely to seek the help of professional retirement planners, despite the great need that most have for such assistance.

SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams discussed the findings of the recent study  “Out and Visible: The Experiences and Attitudes of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Older Adults.”  The report is based on a survey of 1,857 LGBT people and 519 non-LGBT people, aged 45-75.

“We know from experience working with LGBT older people across the country that there are heightened levels of concern around Social Security in the elder years, around housing in the elder years, around health issues in the elder years, and in our experience those concerns are greater than those of other Americans,” Adams said. “We were looking to see in the survey if that was the case quantitatively and to what degree, and more specifically, around what issues. You’ll see in the report we did in fact find some pretty significant concerns and differences relative to older Americans in general.”

A Need For LGBT Retirement Data

SAGE is the oldest and largest LGBT organization in the country focusing on the needs and interests of LGBT older adults. The organization offers both services and programs for LGBT adults, as well as policy advocacy, education and training for elder needs.

The motivation for the “Out and Visible” study was simple, Adams said: “One of the challenges we face is that there is very little information about LGBT older adults. So this is the first market study on LGBT older people.”

The study revealed four trends in particular that should be of concern to retirement planners.

“First, there is significantly higher concern about financial security in retirement years among LGBT individuals than they are among older Americans in general,” Adams said.

“Second are concerns about support networks, and fears people have of aging alone. It is much higher than older Americans in general,” Adams said.

“Third are concerns regarding the relationship that LGBT Americans have with the healthcare providers. Very high numbers of LGBT folks reported that they are not ‘out’ to their healthcare provider, and they feel that if they were ‘out’ they would face significant problems,” he said.

“Finally, the data around housing [revealed strong] concerns about housing discrimination. At the same time a very high percentage of LGBT people expressed a strong interest in potentially living in LGBT-specific older adult housing or retirement communities,” Adams said.

Levels of Fear And Anxiety Run High

There are a number of reasons why LGBT individuals approach retirement with higher levels of fear and anxiety, the study finds.

“One is the very acute levels of social isolation as LGBT people age,” Adams said. “This is in part defined by the fact that LGBT people are four times less likely to be parents than older Americans in general, and twice as likely to be single and living alone. These social dynamics create higher levels of isolation, and fear of isolation, in the later years.”

The study also revealed higher levels of poverty among LGBT elder people than among Americans in general.

“Some of this has to do with the fact that the federal safety net benefits like Social Security have not been distributed to LGBT older people because of refusal to recognize same sex relationships,” Adams said. “Some of it is due to a lack of shared retirement and pension benefits among same sex couples. Some of it reflects wage discrimination. And some of it reflects the lack of family support financially in the later years.”

With regard to health, LGBT elder people expressed strong concern with being open about their sexuality, and that certainly extends to healthcare providers, Adams said.

“We know that LGBT people have some particular healthcare concerns: for example, higher levels of HIV, higher levels of mental health and substance abuse concerns, etc. All of these create difficult challenges in the later years,” Adams said.

As to issues related to housing, Adams said “what we know is that older people are more likely to have a bias against LGBT people. What that translates to for LGBT older folks is that, often, if they’re living in elder housing, many of their peers are simply not accepting of their presence.”

Lacking A Retirement Strategy

In addition to all of the fears and anxieties noted above, a majority of LGBT older Americans cite another common concern—their lack of a formal retirement strategy, according to the survey.

“We know from experience that, as people are approaching their retirement years they face many unknowns, and those unknowns lead to fears, especially around some of the heightened anxiety and fears that LGBT older people have regarding financial security, isolation and housing. A lot of emphasis is on the unknowns and the lack of plans,” Adams said.

Hopefully a professional retirement planner could help allay those fears, but the trick is to get the LGBT individual in front of a planner. Indeed, while 37 percent of non-LGBT survey respondents indicated they were working with financial advisors, only 28 percent of LGBT respondents said the same.

“That’s a pretty significant disparity,” Adams said. “It’s a very troubling gap, because if anything, LGBT people have a greater need to work with financial advisors. We don’t have the same types of legal protections as older Americans have in general.”

As to why there is such a large gap between LGBT and non-LGBT individuals seeking out retirement planners, Adams said “we would surmise that some of that is about distrust. We see that, as a manifestation of isolation, people tend to trust so-called outsiders less. We also see that people who don’t have friends and family to guide them to advisors are less likely to use them.”

Finally, Adams offered advice to retirement planners on how to more effectively work with LGBT older Americans.

“The first step for financial advisors would be to market and outreach to the LGBT community, and demonstrate an interest in working with LGBT people. That first step of showing that the shingle is out there is a very important one,” Adams said.

“A second one is for advisors to educate themselves about the financial challenges that LGBT people in general, and LGBT older people more specifically, face. There are particular areas that need to be addressed, as were indicated in the survey. Being equipped with that type of information and expertise is important to win that trust,” Adams said.