The struggle is real for many women in retirement.
A panel at the Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago with Laura Lutton of Morningstar, Cindy Hounsell of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement and retirement columnist Mark Miller outlined women’s financial challenges in retirement.
“A lot of women end their life single because they outlive their spouse,” Lutton said. “They often don’t have the same financial resources as men. They earn less over their careers: 79 cents on the dollar. And they often take breaks from their working lives to advance their education or take care of family members.”
This longer life and lower savings put many women in a position where their nest egg doesn’t last as long as they do, Lutton added.
Study after study shows the challenges women face in retirement.
A recent study by BNY Mellon showed that the average woman’s portfolio needs to earn at least 50 basis points more per year than a man’s to get her wealth to last as long as she does.
Another study by the National Women’s Law Center finds that a woman who works for 40 years earns nearly $430,000 in lifetime income than a man. The same study finds that an average woman would need to work 11 years longer than the typical man to make up the income difference.
According to Miller, the gender income gap is fundamental to the question of how to solve women’s retirement crisis.
“The gender income gap feeds very directly into the retirement security gap because it translates into lower Social Security benefit, lower pension benefit in the case of those that do have a defined benefit plan, and of course lower savings.”
Hounsell and Miller gave some tips and strategies to the audience of financial advisors on how they can help women have a more successful retirement.
1. Education, education education.
Education is key, Hounsell said.
Through her work at the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER), Hounsell has found that nobody knows the basics about investing and finances.
“It doesn’t matter the income level. We’ve done studies with nurses, teachers, high-level executives and it’s kind of all the same nervousness,” she said. “You’re thrown all these concepts. You go in and someone starts talking about ETFs and you don’t even know what a mutual fund is. Even though people can learn all of this, they never quite get the beginning of what it all means.”
Retirement is one of the top fears in almost every study of women, Hounsell said.
2. Include both spouses.
Both Miller and Hounsell stressed the importance of including both spouses in meetings with a financial advisor.
“There was a study … saying that 70% of the widows leave an advisor after the spouse dies,” Hounsell said. “It’s important to … make sure you’re talking to the person. I know this seems obvious but complaints are often because the women don’t go to the meetings many times.”
Miller agreed that it’s “very important” for both spouses to be on board with the relationship with the financial planner. He also stressed the importance for both spouses to be comfortable with the investing style and approach beign used by the advisor because men and women often view investing differently.
“Men tend to treat it as a game … and it turns into this macho exercise,” Miller said. “Women don’t think about It this way generally. They tend to be more goal oriented, not very interested in the … investing. Men have this tendency to trade much more actively and as a result they have lower returns than women. That’s the flip side of the gender gap.” 3. More risk isn’t necessarily needed.
While some studies say women should take on more risk in their portfolios, Miller disagrees.
“I don’t buy that argument. I don’t think taking more risk is the answer,” he said. “I get the idea that there’s this gap you’re trying to close but to me more risk isn’t the answer.”
What is the answer? Miller says it’s “starting earlier with saving, higher savings rate, optimize Social Security, and deal with it more holistically.”
4. Start with Social Security.
Miller’s advice to financial advisors: “I always start with Social Security.”
This ties in with Hounsell and Miller’s advice to include both spouses.
“I think it’s important to make sure your married clients are doing joint optimization planning. Very often people tend to think about Social Security in isolation. When should I file to get my benefit?”
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