THERE IS ONE PERSISTENT MINDSET ABOUT MONEY that is far more common among women than men. It applies to even affluent and high-earning women. That is, the fear of becoming a ‘bag lady.’ Conjure up any image of a bag lady, and invariably she appears alone. There are no family or friends nearby to support her, or even keep her company on the streets. Perhaps it’s her isolation rather than her poverty that a woman fears most.
As such, the bag lady fear becomes far more rational, and needs to be taken seriously. The hard fact is that 56 percent of women aged 65 or older are unmarried, according to 2011 US Census data. Compare this to the 24 percent of men who are unmarried at age 65+. As women move into older age brackets, 75 – 84 years, the percentage of unmarried women rises to 63 percent.
The implications of these numbers are huge, especially as they impact the way the genders plan for retirement. The average male can expect a life of shared activities and decisions in his waning years, with a partner to assist with household decisions, medical care, the activities of daily living. The average female, on the other hand, can anticipate moving from a coupled state, to being and living alone. Decisions about where to live, and how to accomplish the business of living are likely to become more difficult. Studies have shown her income will drop by about half, but her expenses will decrease only by 20 percent. Her social life may be disrupted, as a result of no longer having a spouse or partner. In retirement, she is likely to contend with grief, isolation, and dislocation.
Too often it is assumed that retirement planning is all about managing the money for the last third of people’s life. But for women, it needs to be much more comprehensive and thoughtful. It’s a time in her life when connection is so important. Her resources – namely, her community, the services it offers, and her options for health care and housing – are the retirement “wealth” that needs managing and planning, just as carefully as her IRA or 401(k).
We want to wish all our women clients, and those who care about them, a Happy New Year of promise and commitment to serving her needs and preparing her for a secure future.
This article is from the Spring 2014 TRANSITIONS newsletter. To view the full version, please click here to read more articles written from our advisors.
Linda Cao, CFP®, is a Wealth Advisor at Silver Oak. She specializes in working with women-in-transition and in retirement planning.