International Women’s Day, observed on March 8, celebrates the social, cultural and political achievements of women. Yet, women continue to face many challenges. For one thing, women still encounter gender-specific obstacles to their important financial goals, such as a comfortable retirement. If you’re a woman, what can you do to get past these barriers?
First of all, you need to recognize them. Here are a few to consider:
• Longer life spans: A 65-year-old woman is expected to live, on average, another 20.5 years, compared to 17.9 years for a 65-year-old man, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. That’s another 21/2 years of life—and 21/2 years more of expenses.
• Lower incomes: Women working full time in the United States typically are paid 80% of what men earn, according to Census Bureau data.
• More time away from the workforce: Men work an average of 38 years, compared to just 29 for women, according to the Pew Research Center and the Social Security Administration. The gap is largely due to women taking time off to care for young children and elderly parents. Women who work substantially fewer years than men will miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in earnings and many years of contributions to 401(k)s or other retirement plans.
These statistics certainly are sobering—but they don’t mean you are powerless to improve your financial security. In fact, you can do quite a lot, including the following:
• Boost your retirement plan contributions: Put in as much as you can afford to your 401(k) or other employer-sponsored plan, and increase your contributions whenever you get a raise. And even if you have a 401(k), you may still be eligible to contribute to an IRA.
• Invest for growth: Some studies have shown that women may invest less aggressively than men. If you invest mostly in conservative vehicles, you may run the risk of falling short of your financial goals. To achieve these goals, you’ll need a reasonable amount of growth potential in your portfolio.
• Extend your working life: If you like your job, you may want to consider sticking with it a couple of years past when you initially thought you’d retire. You’ll be able to add to your retirement accounts, and the extra years of work may help you increase your Social Security benefits. These payments are based on an average of your highest 35 years of earnings, so if you have a zero in some of these years, it will pull the average down. Consequently, your extra years of work may help erase those zeros. But even if you have a long, unbroken work record, your extended career can help you in regard to Social Security, because the extra money may mean you can afford to delay collecting benefits – and the longer you wait past 62, the bigger your checks will be—at least until you turn 70, when they “max out.”
You’ll help yourself by becoming familiar with the special issues women face in meeting their long-term goals. As you know, women have met challenges successfully for a long time. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did—except backwards, and in heels.
Daniel Tanaka is a financial adviser for Edward Jones Investments, located at 332 Route 100, Suite 300, in Somers. He can be reached at 914-669-5329.