Women Might Put Kids’ College ahead of Retirement

A survey by OppenheimerFunds suggests advisers might have an opportunity to help women save for their children's college costs without sacrificing their retirement savings.

Nearly two-thirds of surveyed women believe that paying for their kids’ college education will significantly affect their ability to save for their retirement, according to an OppenheimerFunds poll of parents of pre-college-age children.

Single mothers are especially challenged by saving for both college and retirement. While a little more than half of single mothers say they are equally concerned with their own retirement and getting their kids to college, about one-third said they are more concerned with getting their kids to college, according to the poll.
About eight of 10 women agree (and one-third strongly agree) that it’s important to plan financially for retirement and college costs at the same time, but only 10% of women strongly agree that they have such plans in place, the survey found.

“A professional financial adviser can be invaluable in developing a smart, integrated approach for reaching both college and retirement goals,” said Donna Winn, president and CEO, OFI Private Investments Inc.

Women Push for College

While both men and women see importance in going to college, women place more value on a college degree than men, the survey suggested. Almost three-fourths (74%) of women said it’s very important for their children to obtain a college degree, compared to 66% of men. More than half (52%) of women surveyed strongly agreed that a college education is particularly important for a woman’s ability to achieve financial security (compared to just 30% of men).

Women might push slightly harder for the value of a college degree, but men are taking the lead in the efforts to save for it, the survey found. For example, women are less likely than men to know how much their household has saved for college (56% versus 65%) and also less likely to have a goal for college savings (40% versus 46%). Among those with a savings goal, women are also less likely to have factored the cost of extra college expenses into their goal (67% versus 75%).

"Women are passionately committed to college for their kids, and are typically the key force getting kids ready for higher education everything from meeting with teachers, to helping with homework, to helping to identify the right college," said Winn. "But when it comes to the vital task of college financial planning, we found that women frequently turn over the reins.”

Winn said women should take more of a lead in college financial planning, so that kids do not head off to college with a backpack full of student loans. "College debt is particularly problematic for women, as they earn less than men and are more likely to move in and out of the workforce," Winn said.

Not only do women struggle with their own loans, but poor college financial planning on behalf of their kids can also affect the future financial security of women, OppenheimerFunds noted.

"The implications are clear: To the extent that women don't manage the college saving process well, their retirement could take a hit," Winn said. "It might be because they're paying college costs out of their own retirement funds—or subsidizing a child who 'failed to launch' because of heavy college debt or lack of funds to finish school.”

Women Take the Lead

The OppenheimerFunds poll found that women take more primary responsibility for the long-term college process, including discussing college with their child (83% versus 64% of men), helping their child research college (89% versus 62%), and helping with the college application process (87% versus 62%).

Paying for college is important for women as parents, and they are even more willing than men to make personal sacrifices to help their children pay for college. More than half of women agree that not paying for college would be "a failure for me as a parent," according to the survey. Women are more likely than men to say they're very willing to eat out less (77% versus 69%), buy fewer consumer electronics (76% versus 65%), buy fewer clothes/shoes (75% versus 64%), give up a vacation (66% versus 59%), take a second job (34% versus 25%), and take out a personal loan (30% versus 25%).

Among parents who said attending college was a significant financial burden for them, women are more likely than men (57% verse 48%) to strongly agree that it's important that attending college be less of a burden on their children than it was for them, according to Oppenheimer.

The OppenheimerFunds poll was conducted online between September 25 and 29 by Mathew Greenwald & Associates. Respondents (1,099 women, 559 men) were parents of a child age 18 or younger who is not currently attending college.