“2020 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in the U.S.,” says Catherine Collinson, president and CEO of the Transamerica Institute and the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. “Since then, women have made great strides in educational achievement and career opportunities. Despite this progress, they continue to be at greater risk than men of not achieving a financially secure retirement.” Furthermore, in retirement, women have longer life expectancies and often are younger than their spouses, potentially leaving them with more years in retirement.
Unfortunately, only 17% of women say they are very confident they will be able to retire comfortably, according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. The study goes on to estimate that nearly 25% of women who are working or who have recently lost their job say their confidence in their ability to retire comfortably has declined amid the pandemic. Given that women have a low average savings rate and that some women report not even knowing how much they should strive to save, it’s not surprising confidence is so low.
While a majority of working women report that they are saving for retirement, they also report having several financial priorities that compete with one another. These include paying off debt, building emergency savings, covering basic living expenses, and saving for retirement. Many businesses are also projecting that cost containment will be a major concern as we enter 2021. As a result, employees will shoulder more risk as health insurance deductibles and out-of-pocket limits increase (and networks narrow).
Despite their concerns about retirement, women are generally trying to stay resilient and keep a positive outlook. “During the pandemic, women are being stretched to their limits, in some instances balancing their job responsibilities with home schooling children and, possibly, caregiving for an aging parent or loved one,” Collinson says. “Right now, it is especially important for women to take care of themselves and their own well-being.”
According to the Transamerica study, 54% of women expect to work past 65 or never retire, and 56% plan to work at least part time in retirement. As such, women are encouraged to be proactive about remaining employable past 65 or in retirement. This involves taking steps to safeguard their health through eating healthy foods, seeking medical attention as needed, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of rest.
It has been said, ‘opportunity arises out of the chaos.’ Clearly, 2020 has been an exhausting whirlwind of changes, yet for many of us there are still major considerations and actions to take before the year draws to a close. Many goals and plans were derailed by COVID-19, virtual learning, and the chaos of the last 7 months, but there are still 3 months left to build a plan of action and capitalize on 2020. Focus on the potential for, and the positives of, a well-planned-for-retirement, rather than dwelling on the opportunities lost. Take the time to re-prioritize, reassess your risk tolerance, and consider how your financial picture has been impacted and changed.
It is not lost on me that the vast majority of readership of this publication is not composed of females lacking confidence in their financial futures. However, I do believe that as leaders in our workplaces and communities we should personally emphasize the importance of saving for retirement, setting the expectation that a secure retirement is achievable for those who save. At times, providing positive support and encouragement can be as simple as starting a discussion and bringing an awareness to the multitudes of financial calculators and budgeting tools that are available for use online. Resources like retirement income estimators and savings calculators can assist women, and all savers, in understanding how their saving rate will translate into income in retirement — and help them visualize how saving even slightly more now can have a big impact on their future.
We have the opportunity to help women, and all Americans, become more confident about their future retirement. If you find yourself in the role of ‘employer’ during these uncertain times, now is a critical time to center on bettering retirement outcomes for plan participants. Specifically, well-built retirement plans are known to be quality tools for attracting new hires, retaining the best talent, and boosting productivity. In recent months, employers’ focus and resources have been largely diverted toward helping employees work through the employment uncertainty and personal anxiety caused by the pandemic and social justice concerns. As we approach year end, a key challenge will be engaging employees in a way that they are able to obtain the right balance of awareness and education across benefit offerings. Flexibility and creativity are key to creating awareness and empowering employees to make informed decisions.
In some ways, HR professionals’ roles have evolved through COVID-19, as they work to implement initiatives that are more inclusive, deliberate and engaging than ever before. Employees who previously valued choice may now see it as a bit of a burden, so we should aim to provide solutions that are easy to explain. Improving benefit use, of course, requires education. When employees know what it will take to safeguard their future, they will be more inclined to proactively participate.
As retirement professionals and employers, we need to be mindful as we interact with our employees on making sound financial decisions. Thoughtful analysis of their needs today with the balance of their financial needs in retirement should be considered. As an employee, do your best to remain open to possibilities, ask questions, and be realistic about the execution timelines of your overall financial strategy. The lack of confidence in retirement, and specifically the disconnect between men and women, doesn’t have to exist. We should strive to help each other tackle what they don’t understand, thorough education and robust financial wellness tools.
The year 2020 has brought some surreal challenges, which in turn have significantly expanded the need to focus on mental health, mindfulness, healthy living, and reducing stress. With only three months left in the year, now is the time to ensure you are safeguarding your financial future by crafting a practical budget, prioritizing expenses, setting both short- and long-term goals and developing a retirement strategy. While it can be intimidating or overwhelming, there is remarkable power that comes from constructing a plan of action to reach your goals. As individuals, regardless of gender, we need to renew our focus and attempt to increase our confidence in the future by taking steps now to set ourselves up for the best possible 2021 and beyond. In closing, here’s to strong women, may we know them, may we be them, and may we raise them.