Wells Fargo Retirement Survey Focuses on Women

Wells Fargo published its sixth annual Retirement Survey and spoke with middle-income women spanning all ages; the survey found retirement is the number-one issue they want to learn more about. 

The survey found that regardless of marital status, women expressed less confidence in their outlook for retirement and had saved less than men. A majority of women are unsure or unrealistic about what their annual withdrawals should be in retirement and are wary of the stock market as a place for investment gains.  

Differences between generations  

Wells Fargo found that 18% of 20-something year-old women say Social Security will be available to them in their retirement vs. 23% of men in their 20s. Almost three-fourths of men and women in their 60s believe Social Security will be available for their retirement.

Meanwhile, 46% of 20-something women said that if given $5,000 to put away for retirement, they would put it in the market, versus 66% of 20-something men. In the “stressed” 40s, 72% of men say they’d put money in the stock market, vs. 57% of women in that age group.

Other findings include:

  • Women in their 40s are the most likely of all respondents to have cut their spending on both discretionary items and basic necessities (42% vs. 29% overall) and reduced their retirement savings since the recession started (25% vs. 20% overall) and the most likely to say they cannot save more because of other financial priorities (69% vs. 55% overall).
  • Women from the 20s to the 60s voiced stronger support than men for several proposals that could encourage retirement savings, and they were much more likely to say an in-person financial adviser is important to them:
  • 83% of women agree that employers should provide personal advice to help employees manage retirement savings (76% of men agreed). Single women were most enthusiastic that employers should do more to encourage retirement planning (89%).
  • Among the age groups, women in their 20s and 30s were most enthusiastic that employers should encourage retirement planning, with 86% and 88% in agreement, respectively.


Women more nervous than men 

Some 54% of women said they are confident they will have enough saved to “live the life they want” in retirement, compared to 62% of men, according to a new Wells Fargo survey.

A Wells Fargo news release about its latest retirement survey said women respondents indicate they are less likely to have a pension (40% vs. 48% of men) or a 401(k) available to them through their employer among those employed (71% vs. 76% of men). Women are also less likely to believe that Social Security will be available to them (38% vs. 42% of men) when they retire.

“Women hold more than half of high-paying management and professional positions in the U.S. and three women are in college now for every two men. But when it comes to retirement, they lag in their confidence about how to prepare for this phase in life, and they are less likely to see themselves in the driver’s seat,” explained Karen Wimbish, head of Retail Retirement for Wells Fargo, in the news release. “We’d like to see women make the same kind of progress in planning and saving for retirement that they’ve made in so many other spheres of life. It’s encouraging that retirement is the No. 1 financial topic women want to learn about, based on additional research we’ve conducted.”

The survey found:

  • 72% of women ranked an in-person financial adviser as important, compared to 63% of men, and 52% cited a human resources professional at their workplace as an important source of advice, compared to 42% of men.
  • Although both men and women are underfunded for retirement, women have saved less than men – a median of $20,000, compared to $25,000 for men. Women also set their sights lower than men: Whether married or single, when asked how much they thought they would need to support them during retirement, women said they are aiming for a median of $200,000, while men predict they will need retirement savings of $400,000.
  • Almost 30% of women between the ages of 40 and 69 are “not sure or can’t estimate” how much they will need to withdraw from their retirement savings annually while in retirement, and about 32% of women in their 40s and 50s estimate they will withdraw 11% to 30% or greater each year.
  • Just 27% of women have confidence in the stock market as a place for investment gains for their savings, compared to 40% of men. If given $5,000 with the instruction that it be “put away for your retirement,” 40% of all women say they would purchase bank CDs instead of putting the money in the market, compared to 30% percent of men.


Single women more optimistic than married women  

Single women are more optimistic than married women that Social Security will be available to them; 48% expect to receive Social Security vs. 35% of married women, according to a new Wells Fargo survey.

A Wells Fargo news release about its latest poll of attitudes about retirement issues said single women were most concerned about inflation: 48% said it would have a high impact on their retirement plans vs. 29% of single men. Some 40% of married women said it would have a high impact on their retirement plans versus 33% of married men.

Twenty percent of married women are more likely than single women (12%) to say they don't know or can't estimate how much they've saved for retirement.


  • 70% of women agreed the government should provide a universal savings vehicle for those without a 401(k) (vs. 60% of men). Single women were most supportive (77%); married men, least supportive (58%).
  • Single Americans are more likely to have a written retirement plan than those who are married – 38% of single women and single men have one, compared to 32% of married men and 29% of married women.

Harris Interactive Inc. conducted 1,756 telephone interviews of middle-income U.S. residents in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s on  behalf of Wells Fargo.  The interviews were conducted between September 9 and October 7, 2010.

More information is at a new Wells Fargo Web site on women’s retirement issues at https://www.wellsfargo.com/beyondtoday.