Women face unique financial challenges on their path to building wealth. Whether single or married, the obstacles they encounter are similar. However, both men and women experience life milestones that influence their financial futures. Graduating from college, starting a family, buying a home, career changes, and retirement are just a few. But, the impact of these events bears greater weight for women. For example, as of early 2019, two-thirds of outstanding student loan debt is held by women. This extra debt burden reduces the amount of money available to achieve other financial goals.
That’s only one of the reasons women’s finances are unique. Here are several more:
Women Live Longer
Actuary studies continue to show women are living longer than men. In 2019, a woman age 65 can expect to live until age 86.5, on average. Married women will likely outlive their husbands. Couples must plan not only for a specific retirement lifestyle but also for the financial care of the surviving partner.
For both married and single women, long-term care costs should be one of the primary financial targets of wealth building. With one out of every three 65-year-olds living past age 90 and one out of seven living past age 95, planning now for future expenses is key to limiting financial stress in the retirement years.
It’s About More Than the Gender Wage Gap
While the gender pay gap is shrinking, studies continue to show a disparity in earnings between men and women. The exact figures vary by source, but the statistics only tell part of the story. Wage data is influenced by several factors1, but family caregiving responsibilities appear to have a significant impact on long-term earnings.
Between 2006 and 2016, the percentage of women age 40 to 44 who had ever given birth increased from 80% to 86%2, with more than half of these women classified as “never married”. Regardless of marital status, mothers may experience the “motherhood penalty”, a negative perception in the workplace of women with children.
Cornell University3 researchers found that mothers experience career disadvantages when compared to fathers and non-mothers. Working mothers are viewed as less competent and less committed to their jobs, which can be financially devastating. For example, upon returning to the workforce after taking time to have or raise children, a mother is more likely to be offered a lower starting salary and be passed over for promotions and new jobs, even if she’s more qualified for the position than other applicants.
A temporary career break can negatively affect a woman’s finances. Missed opportunities for promotions may require the working mom to work for lower pay to juggle work and family responsibilities.
Time away from the workforce can compound an already established shortfall in earnings over a lifetime. There’s less opportunity to take advantage of employer-sponsored retirement matching plans such as 401(k)s and other pre-tax savings benefits. Even when these options are available, the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics shows that only 46 percent of working women participate in retirement plans4.
Despite these financial realities, women can build wealth with smart investing.
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1 8 Economists on What People Don’t Understand About the Gender Pay Gap – And If It Can Actually Be Closed
2 Pew Research Center, They’re Waiting Longer, but U.S. Women Today More Likely to Have Children Than a Decade Ago, January 18, 2018
3 Cornell University, Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty? Shelley J. Correll, Stephen Benard, and In Paik, March 20074 U.S. Department of Labor, Women and Retirement Savings, September 2017