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Boomer Women Face Greater Financial Challenges In Retirement


Many older women believe they face a greater threat of financial  hardship in retirement than men, and that concern may not be off the mark.

An AARP study, based on interviews with 4,000 people ages 50 to 64, found that women consistently reported more consternation than men about their current financial state and future outlook. Of course, the deep recession didn't make anyone feel flush with confidence. But women were clearly more worried.

"Women feel less secure because they are," says report author Sara Rix, a senior strategic adviser at AARP. "They're more likely to end up alone in old age."

"During the recession, many women were married to men who lost good jobs," Rix says. " A sizable number of households exhausted their savings, opted for early Social Security benefits, or tapped into their retirement plans and other savings. What surprises me is that men weren't more anxious" about their  future.

More women were uncomfortable than men on almost every issue they were asked about:

  • Debt levels (48 percent versus 41 percent)
  • Savings (64 percent versus 59 percent)
  • Ability to maintain a reasonable lifestyle in retirement (79 percent versus 73 percent)
  • Ability to pay for adequate health care (81 percent versus 77 percent)
  • Ability to pay for nursing home care (84 percent versus 78 percent)
  • Retirement income keeping up with inflation (87 percent versus 79 percent)

Responses from the women, who were interviewed in 2010 about the recession's impact, add to a large body of literature documenting that women tend to have a more difficult time saving for retirement and avoiding poverty late in life.

In a  GAO report released in July, researchers examined women's retirement outlook from 1998 to 2009.

They found that women workers generally had less access to employer-sponsored retirement plans than men, though in recent years they had made great strides in catching up. Still, they were less likely to participate in those plans than men for a variety of reasons, including that they made less money on average (25 percent less over the last decade) and therefore couldn't afford to contribute; were more likely to work part-time; or were more likely to be single parents.

They're also more likely to have lower Social Security and pension payments, in part because they've gone in and out of the workforce over their careers, limiting their income. Women also tend to live longer than men, so they have more years to finance in retirement.

Divorce and widowhood had pronounced effects: After a divorce or separation, women's household income fell by 41 percent, on average, almost twice the decline that men experienced. After becoming widowed, women's household income fell by 37 percent while men's fell by 22 percent, the report found.
All this led to a scenario that's deeply disturbing: In 2010, women age 65 and older had a poverty rate that was nearly two times higher than for men of that age.

 Photo Credit: Will Selarep/Vetta/Getty Images

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