Women Facing ‘Retirement Income Glass Ceiling’

By Darla Mercado

Jul. 31, 2012

Women face a unique set of hurdles when it comes to saving for retirement, and those difficulties set them far behind men once they stop working.

“Due to persisting income disparities, a retirement income glass ceiling has been placed over women, and it is limiting their ability to fund a secure retirement,” according to Cathy Weatherford, chief executive of the Insured Retirement Institute.

Research released by the IRI on Tuesday showed that over time, income disparities hurt the growth of women’s retirement savings. After 30 years, female employees end up with a 25 percent to 30 percent shortfall in savings, compared with a male worker who has the same saving and investing habits.

Further, while half of male baby boomers have at least $200,000 socked away for retirement, just 35 percent of boomer women have that much in savings, according to the IRI, which conducted interviews with 503 people 50 to 66.

Women continue to earn close to 80 cents for every dollar earned by men. That difference inevitably affects the amount that women put away in their retirement plans.

Between 25 and 34, a woman’s retirement savings is only about 64% of a man’s, rising only slightly to 78 percent between 65 and 69, according to data from ING Groep NV and cited by the IRI.

Female workers’ savings plans go awry when they take time off of work to care for family members. Stepping out of the workforce to raise a child or to care for others means that these women end up missing out on career opportunities, as well as the time to contribute to a retirement plan at work.

The IRI cited data from the Family Caregiver Alliance that showed that a third of working women cut their working hours, while 29 percent took a pass on a promotion and 16 percent outright quit their job to take care of others.

Life events, such as divorce or death of a spouse, hurt women more keenly due to the loss of income and assets, particularly if these events take place later in life. Women tend to live three to four years longer than men, according to the Society of Actuaries, so they need to stretch their savings and income over a longer time period.

Following a divorce or separation, women’s household income declines by an average of 41 percent, close to twice the amount of income loss men experienced, according to an analysis of people over 50 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Once a woman is widowed, her household income declines by 37 percent, compared with a 22 percent drop for men.

“Women face a unique set of circumstances that warrant special attention,” Barbara D. Bovbjerg, managing director of education, workforce and income security at the GAO, wrote in the report.

“Women may have a more difficult time saving for retirement and avoiding poverty late in life,” she wrote. “[This is] partly due to the fact that they have a greater likelihood of being single, living longer, taking time out of the workforce to care for family members and having lower average earnings.”

Darla Mercado writes for InvestmentNews, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email

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