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Many Retirement-Age Women Lack Financial Literacy: American College

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A large cohort of retirement-age American women lack financial literacy, according to The American College of Financial Services’ latest RICP retirement income literacy survey.

Only 18% of women could pass a basic quiz on how to make their savings last in retirement, compared with 35% of retirement-age men, yet a majority of women were still extremely confident that they and their spouses would have enough money to retire comfortably.

Greenwald & Associates conducted online interviews in February and March with 1,244 Americans ages 60 to 75 who had at least $100,000 in household assets, not including their primary residence.

According to the survey, women demonstrated lower literacy rates than men in most of the quiz’s knowledge categories. Following is a selection of knowledge categories, with the percentage of correct responses:

  • Annuity products in retirement — women 16%, men 24%
  • Company retirement plans — women 30%, men 40%
  • Investment considerations in retirement planning — women 31%, men 49%
  • Strategies for sustaining income through retirement — women 34%, men 48%
  • Paying for long-term care expenses — women 38%, men 35%
  • Medicare insurance planning — women 76%, men 76%
  • Passed quiz — women 18%, men 35%

Women in the survey were aware that they had poor retirement literacy. Only 33% of female respondents said they were extremely knowledgeable about retirement income planning, compared with 44% of males.

This did not affect their confidence in retirement, however. Fifty-five percent of women purported to be extremely confident that their money would last throughout retirement.

The quiz results told a different story. Just 24% of extremely confident women passed, versus 42% of extremely confident men.

In all the quiz’s knowledge categories — including strategies for sustaining income, life expectancy and life insurance — women reported lower self-perceived retirement income planning knowledge than men.

“Women face considerable challenges when it comes to preparing for retirement, and lacking financial literacy certainly does not help the cause,” Jocelyn Wright, State Farm chair in women and financial services and assistant professor of women’s studies at The American College of Financial Services, said in a statement.

“This is a problem, especially when a female at age 65 can expect to live another 20 years on average, two years longer than the average man. With this in mind, women cannot depend on their spouse to hold the keys to their retirement. It is time to get smart on how to navigate this complex and extremely important stage of life.”

Financial Decision-Making

According to the survey, men tend to consider themselves the primary decision maker, while women are inclined to believe that they split the decision making. In fact, 80% of women said that they shared the decision making with their spouse, while only 35% of men said they did so.

Only a fifth of women surveyed said they were the primary financial decision maker, compared with two-thirds of married male respondents.

Women were also less likely than men to tap resources, such as friends or the internet, for advice and information around financial assets.

Twenty-seven percent of female respondents, but 39% of male ones, reported that they consulted friends for advice and information about financial assets, and 46% of women looked up financial information online at least once a year, compared with 61% of men.

An interesting note: Twenty-six percent of women who identified themselves as the primary financial decision maker in the household passed the retirement literacy quiz, while only 12% of those that identified themselves as sharing the decision making did so.

Notwithstanding the high lack retirement income literacy among a majority of female respondents, most did understand the value of a financial advisor and believed advisors are a good source of knowledge around retirement income.

Indeed, women were just as likely as men to consult a financial advisor or a financial services firm to get financial information, according to the survey. However, women had different expectations of their advisor.

Fifty-five percent of women who had engaged a financial advisor said it was extremely important that their professional educate them about the risks of running out of money in retirement, as opposed to 42% of men who said this.

And 60% of women, but only 47% of men, said it was important for an advisor to educate them about investment management.

“All people, regardless of gender, should be equipped with the knowledge that could better prepare them for retirement,” said Jamie Hopkins, retirement income program co-director at The American College of Financial Services, said in the statement.

“Women face a number of challenges that the average man does not face in retirement, including greater longevity. So in some ways women should be more aggressive investors and have better retirement income literacy rates as they need to make their money last even longer in retirement.”

— Take the RICP Retirement Income Literacy Quiz.

— Check out Couples Share the Checkbook, but Men Rule the Portfolio on ThinkAdvisor.


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