Until recently most professionals simply lumped men and women together when it came to planning for retirement, savings or other investment goals. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent to me that the genders do differ in their investment needs and I want my women readers to understand that.
Let’s start with a few statistics. Women live longer than men by an average of 5.2 years. That doesn’t sound like much on the surface but that means women need to save more than men– an additional $250,000 or more over a lifetime assuming it takes $50,000/year to support yourself.
“So what”, you say, “I’m married (or getting married) and my husband will leave me and our kids well-provided for.”
That could happen, but the odds are only 50/50 it will since the divorce rate in America is fast approaching 50%. And, what happens to the children if you get divorced and have to go to work? Did you know that there are10 million single mothers in this country? And 87% of poverty-stricken elderly Americans are women.
And, let’s say you do stay married. Guess what, over 75% of married women are widowed at an average age of 56, and one in four of these women are broke within two months of being widowed.
And yet, despite all of the above, by next year women will be in a position to control 60% of the wealth in the United States, according to a study by Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America. Women generated $3.7 trillion in buying power last year and carry 76 million credit cards—8 million more than men.
So why is it that only 12% of women take responsibility for planning and investing their money? One reason for this may be rooted in a gender stereotype of investing which historically has been male-based. Industry and academic studies I have read indicate that boys are typically encouraged by their parents to save money. I know in my family that was true. The National Center for Women and Retirement Research, in a survey they conducted with Dreyfus Corporation found that sons were more likely to be encouraged to earn money at a much earlier age (13) versus daughters (16-18).
I had a paper route at 10 and was working part-time in a drug store at 13 while my sister had her first job at 18.
In addition, boys were twice as likely to be encouraged by their parents to save money. However, the study revealed that those women who were supported in academic and math achievement by their parents or teachers early in life were more confident with math during school and later tended to count on their own financial management abilities.
Conversely, women who were uncomfortable with high school math were prone to worry about finances in their adulthood and likely to be more conservative in their investment choices. The study concluded that as a result of this “cultural imprinting” many women approach investing with some insecurity.
Barbara, my wife, doesn’t fall into this category but she has had fear over her investments nonetheless. She explained that her father, an insurance executive, had handled her finances from her first IRA contribution at age 18 up until the time she married me at age 42.
“All I did was glance at my statement once in a while and file it away. When I got married I simply passed the management of my investments from him to you. Then I saw the light a few years ago and decided to take charge of my own future,” she said.
Now Barbara manages her own finances and retirement investments.
“It feels liberating, although there is a healthy fear mixed with excitement about being able to take control of my own life.”
In the months to come, I plan to address and explore the topic of women and investing at great length. My next column will address different strategies of investing for women depending upon your age. We will examine the dos and don’ts for those of you who are just starting out in the working world or with established careers. Baby Boomers and women over 50 will also be an area of special attention as will women who are already retired and struggling to make sense of their financial issues. I urge all readers who are interested in this subject to e-mail or call in your comments and questions to me at the address below. I would like nothing better than to start a forum of women on the topic of investment.