Efforts Needed to Address Women’s Retirement Readiness Obstacles

Women’s path to a financially secure retirement is filled with many obstacles, a global survey shows.

In a webcast about a new report from Aegon UK and the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, said a survey of more than 16,000 people in 15 countries revealed that women’s positive retirement aspirations are undermined by lifestyle differences. Women are more likely to take time out of workforce or work part-time to take care of family, and they tend to have lower salaries. “These things affect lifetime savings and long-term retirement readiness, especially since women tend to live longer than men,” Collinson said.

The study shows women are more than twice as likely as men to be working in part-time jobs–jobs that often provide few, if any, retirement plan benefits. In addition, women, on average, earn about 27% less than men.

On average globally, women envision entering full retirement at the age of 62. But, there are big variations among countries. In the United States, women expect to retire around the age of 66. Overall, women expect they’ll need an average of 71% of their working-age incomes after they retire; in the U.S., the figure is 67%. Collinson says these findings are somewhat shaped by national policies in each country.

Asked what words they associate most with retirement, survey respondents used positive words most often, such as “leisure” (45%) and “freedom” (39%). However, one-quarter (24%) of women associated retirement with “insecurity” and almost one-fifth (18%) with “poverty.”

Only 20% of women overall feel they are on course with saving for a secure retirement, but twice this number (40%) simply do not know whether they are on course or not. In the U.S., 24% of women feel they are on course, and 43% do not know.

According to the survey, women generally feel responsible for their own retirement income, are aware of the need to plan financially for their retirement and understand retirement planning matters. However, this does not often enough lead to action in the form of planning and saving. Only 10% of women say they feel “very prepared” for retirement and are confident they are already saving enough. Higher income earners, those with a greater understanding of financial matters, and those with more developed planning skills are most likely to belong to this group. More than twice as many women (23%) say the opposite: they feel “very unprepared” and are hardly saving at all. In the U.S., 12% say they are saving enough, and 23% say they are hardly saving at all.

Overall, more than one-third of women (36%) claim to be dedicated savers whose approach is always to make sure they are saving for retirement (which is not necessarily the same as “saving enough”). These women tend to be older with an understanding of financial matters and highly developed financial planning skills. The majority of women, however, do not fall into this group. Younger women, for example, are more likely to be “occasional savers” or to belong to the 24% of women who are “not currently saving although intend to."  In the U.S., 16% say they only save occasionally; 15% are not saving, but intend to; and 15% are not saving, but have in the past.

For two-thirds (67%) of women, a lack of money to invest is a major obstacle to saving for retirement. The survey found women feel dependent on their spouse’s or partner’s income in later life. More than half (54%) of women who are married or living with a partners say that their spouse/partner will be “very” or “extremely” important as a source of financial support during retirement. Further, only 12% of women say that they do not expect their spouse to be an important source of retirement income.

Overall, 38% of women fear they won’t have enough savings for retirement (compared with 30% of men). Women are also less optimistic when it comes to medical expenses—36% believe they will be able cover medical costs in retirement, compared to 43% of men.

Increasing access to workplace retirement plans and a more flexible retirement is the way forward, the report recommends. Collinson said 38% of women versus 45% of men said their employers provide access to a workplace retirement plan.

The survey shows that 74% of women agree that governments should encourage employers to automatically enroll all their employees into a retirement plan. Only 6% of women disagree. Overall, 62% of women say automatic enrollment is “very or somewhat appealing.”

In addition, the survey found only a minority of women (29%) expect to stop work immediately at retirement. In the U.S., it’s only 17%. A clear majority now expect to have some form of phased transition into retirement.

Collinson noted that the main reasons women give for working longer are not financial, but because they enjoy their work and want to remain active.

According to Angela Seymour-Jackson, managing director, Workplace Savings, Aegon UK, the report includes recommendations for efforts to improve women’s retirement readiness. In addition to implementing automatic enrollment in their workplace retirement plans, employers can implement automatic escalation features. The report also recommends plan sponsors extend, where necessary, workplace retirement plans to cover part-time workers thereby providing more employees, particularly women, the ability to save for retirement.

The report recommends both government and employer policies to improve retirement incomes for women while facilitating a more flexible workforce aligned with the unique needs of women:

  • Provide for equal maternity and paternity leave, making it easier for men to share in caregiving responsibilities;
  • Provide assistance and information about caregiving services;
  • Provide Social Security or government “credits” for unpaid time spent by individuals in caregiving roles;
  • Expand the entitlement age range for receipt of government retirement benefits in all countries to reflect increasing longevity and workers’ preferences for a phased transition into retirement;
  • Encourage the implementation of age-friendly workplace policies in recognition of the potential contribution of employees at all ages and the value of a multi-generational workforce;
  • Provide vocational training opportunities and support to help women remain economically active longer into their retirement; and
  • Encourage the implementation of phased workplace retirement programs, which enable workers to stay in the workforce and transition gradually to retirement.

The report says efforts should be made to facilitate the offering of investment advice inside the workplace, particularly in the context of workplace retirement plans. In addition, efforts should be made to encourage the role of investment advisers in providing personalized retirement strategies both inside and outside the workplace. Finally, the report recommends stepping up financial literacy courses in schools and workplaces

The financial industry and plan sponsors could do better at targeting and educating women, Seymour-Jackson said. Financial education should include household budgeting as well as long-term savings, she suggested. And, she said, education should be simple and engaging and available through digital devices.

The report, “The Changing Face of Retirement Women: balancing family, career & financial security,” can be downloaded from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies website or the Aegon website.