Aging is tough, and retirement (or at least saving for it) can be tough, too. But women in particular face unique challenges when it comes to retirement—some of which began early on when they entered the workforce, and others arising as they age and the world changes around them.
Here are 7 challenges unique to women in retirement that need to be considered well before they’re ready to leave the workplace. (All photos: Shutterstock)
7. Women live longer than men.
That means they have to have more money set aside than men do, since they’ll have to pay for more years of living expenses—not to mention health care costs that will rise as they age. In addition, the proportion of women to men rises as both age.
According to the Institute on Aging, in 2010, 57 percent of all adults age 65+ were women. Two-thirds of Americans age 85+are women.
6. They’re more likely to outlive their spouses.
According to the Center for Retirement Initiatives at Georgetown University, women’s longer lifespans mean they’re likely to outlive spouses and experience even more difficulties. Says the report, “On average, 65-year-old females are expected to live to 86.7 years, which is more than two years longer than men. For a couple reaching age 65, the woman will outlive her husband by 11.5 years on average, due to age gaps between married men and women.”
And when that happens, his Social Security benefits will end, possibly along with pension benefits and other income not offering a survivor benefit, leaving her to shoulder all the expenses alone.
5. They’re more prone to physical limitations than men.
About those limitations: not only are women more prone to difficulties with activities of daily living (ADL), they have more problems as they age. While 13 percent of men aged 65–74 reported being unable to perform at least one ADL, compared with 40 percent of men age 85+, 19 percent of women aged 65–74 were also unable to perform at least one activity, compared with 53 percent of those aged 85+.
In addition, in 2009, about 46 percent of female Medicare enrollees age 65+ had difficulty with activities of daily living (ADLs) or were in a facility, compared with 35 percent of male counterparts.
4. Caregiving may cost a woman a full-time job, advancement at work—or perhaps even the job itself—and out-of-pocket expenses for those she cares for.
More than 75 percent of women are caregivers, and even if men do provide care, women may spend up to 50 percent more time doing so.
3. There may be no one to care for a woman when she needs it.
Since women live longer than men and are likely to outlive their husbands, when the time comes that they need help themselves there may be no one to provide it.
If there’s no close family available, they may find themselves institutionalized—if they can afford it, that is. In addition, women are more likely to suffer a chronic illness and less likely to benefit from the unpaid services of a spouse-caretaker.
2. They’re likely living alone.
Not only are older women twice as likely as older men to live alone (37 percent compared with 19 percent), the likelihood of living alone increases with age.
In 2010, 72 percent of older men lived with a spouse, while only 42 percent of older women did—and in the same year, among women age 75+, 47 percent lived alone.
1. They’re more likely to experience depression.
Older women are more likely than older men to report that they are depressed, with one 2008 study finding that 16 percent of women reported being depressed compared with 11 percent of men.
In addition, women’s suicide rates have been on the increase over the past decade—although a PBS report cites CDC data indicating that the age group among women most at risk for suicide is for those between 45–64. Still, says the report, “[w]hile more men died by suicide than women in 2016, the rate of suicide for women has doubled since 2000 to six per 100,000 deaths.”
Women approach retirement with the deck stacked against them. They work for lower pay than their male counterparts—in 2017, the median earnings of women working full time and year round in the U.S. was 80.5% of men’s median earnings—miss time from the workforce to raise children and care for family members in need of aid (sometimes both at once) and often find themselves shut out of advancement and promotions along with the commensurate raises.
As a result, they’re often getting by on less money than they really need, which not only puts them in a precarious financial position during their working years but makes it tough for them to set aside money for retirement—particularly since, in addition to all those other financial handicaps, women generally carry more student debt than men, thus having to stretch meager pay even further.
That all adds up to lower savings by the time they’ve reached retirement age—but the hits just keep on coming, including the challenges of longevity, and with it, health. Yes, it’s not good news, but at least it won’t be a surprise. And given the eons-old grit and resourcefulness women have honed, there is hope for finding solutions at least at the individual level for dealing with this.