Women and Retirement: Will You Be Prepared?

According to a report by the UN Platform for Action Committee Manitoba, half of the single women studied over the age of 65 live in poverty. Further, half of the married women would live in poverty without their husband's income. These are sobering statistics when one considers that 43 per cent of Canadian seniors are single; in 2005, the divorce rate for women aged 55-64 was nearly 8 per cent; and the average age of widowhood in Canada is just 56, according to Census Canada. Will you be prepared?

The following findings translate into real financial challenges for women:
    * Women live longer. According to Statistics Canada, women live an average of six years longer than men, requiring more funds in retirement.
    * Women earn less on average. Women now earn 71% of what men earn, according to the Equal Pay Coalition. In general, work traditionally done by men pays more than work predominantly done by women, regardless of the value of the work.
    * Women are less likely to negotiate their salary. A study of MBA graduates conducted by Linda Bobcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, found that by not negotiating a first salary, a woman gives up more than $500,000 over her professional life, whereas men are more than four times as likely to negotiate a first salary.
    * Women spend less time in the workforce. Due to child rearing and caring for elderly parents, less time is spent on paid employment. Women are also more likely than men to work part-time, which are usually lower paid jobs.
    * Women have smaller pensions. A lower lifetime income means less retirement savings, and smaller public and/or private pension benefits.
    * Women are less investment savvy. According to a BMO Retirement Institute report, women are less likely to have investments and a financial plan, displaying less confidence and engagement in their finances, and not as open to financial risk (perhaps due to all of the above factors!).
While women tend to be at a distinct financial disadvantage, much can be done to ensure financial security in the latter years. To begin with, women need to stop thinking about their retirement savings as a 'family fund'. As natural care-givers, we tend to put family needs ahead of our own future, often bailing out adult children. While the intentions are admirable, admiration won't feed or shelter you in old age. Women need to recognize their own needs and allow themselves to fulfill those needs. As we age, there is less time to make up those lost retirement funds and less probability of employment.

Negotiate that salary! Many women are just grateful to be offered a job that they accept the pay offered. Furthermore, women underestimate their market value, reporting salary expectations from 3 to 32 percent lower than those of men for the same jobs. "When asked to pick metaphors for the process of negotiating, men picked "winning a ballgame" and a "wrestling match," while women picked "going to the dentist", says Babcock.

Despite the above statistics, salary is not the only determining factor. I have worked with women making six-figure incomes who have very little savings. But even with an average lifetime annual after-tax income of only $25,000, a million dollars would have passed through your hands.

Ultimately, lifestyle choices will be the greatest factor in your future financial situation. Start early, make saving a priority, and answer the question - "Will you be prepared?"

Joanne believes that financial independence is the cornerstone to living an empowered and enriched life... and money doesn't have to be intimidating!

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Published At: Women and Retirement: Will You Be Prepared?

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