Minding the gap: A practice in financial feminism

Financial Responsibility, Planning & Money Management | Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

America Saves, a national campaign that promotes savings, notes significant differences in savings between men and women. A 2014 survey showed that women displayed a greater interest in savings, but there was no greater savings effort or savings effectiveness compared to men. But just two years later in the same survey, the gender gap leapt off the page. Woman were notably behind across 12 important financial indicators including consumer debt, savings habits, emergency savings, and general savings progress.

As concerns continue to rise over American’s often inadequate retirement and emergency savings, its become clear that the gender disparity can no longer be pushed aside. 2017 has already been dubbed the year of “financial feminism,” and the momentum behind understanding and dismantling the financial gender gap has been picking up speed in headlines.

The fight to close this financial gender gap is a marathon, not a sprint, and there’s still a great deal of work to be done. The challenges women face are not going to disappear anytime soon, but the financial choices women make in their circumstances can help to shift the tide.

Challenges Women Face

Women have made great strides both socially and economically, but often the unique challenges they face are overlooked or marginalized:

  1. Women are more likely to put family finances first. In a 2015 Fidelity survey, 72 percent of women were confident in their ability to manage and balance the family budget, but less than 40 percent said the same about planning for retirement.
  2. Women live longer. Women are expected to outlive men by nearly five years on average. The Urban Institute estimated that over the next 50 years, about half of women will live for at least a decade past their spouse after age 65. The reality is that these extended years can be the most expensive due to medical and long-term care expenses.
  3. Women face earning-power challenges. While it’s true that women are making fewer cents on the dollar than their male counterparts, the issue here is far more complex than that:

    • 25 percent of working women in America are in one of 22 fast-growing jobs that pay less than $15 and are female-dominated. Despite these jobs being crucial to our economic future, the gender segregation of these jobs, as well as their low pay, puts women at a distinct disadvantage.

    • Half of working women have taken a leave from to care for family. Whether it’s maternity leave or a daughter stepping away to care for an elderly parent, the departure often hinders earning potential, creates gaps in retirement savings, and reduces Social Security benefits.

    • Moms are also more likely to downshift in their careers in the interest of a work-family balance, making it harder to advance in their jobs. Compounded with differences in pay plateaus, this often means that women won’t see equal growth in their salaries over time.

    • Women face scrutiny when it comes to negotiation. Sometimes this scrutiny is a self-imposed fear of being less than 100 percent qualified for a position, but often it is the way in which women are treated that deters them from negotiating into a better job with a higher salary.

The challenges only become more nuanced when you factor in major life events like education, children, and divorce. Although the financial landscape is getting brighter, the impact on women’s finances has been catastrophic, with women being 35 percent more likely to live in poverty than men.

Taking action in this year of financial feminism

The fight to close the financial gender gap is a marathon, not a sprint, and there’s a great deal of work to be done. The challenges women face are not going to disappear anytime soon, but the financial choices women make in their circumstances can help to shift the tide. Here are a few actions women can take to set themselves up for long-term success:

  1. Identify your savings goals: Women are outperforming men in the stock market, but the impetus behind their success isn’t solely to make money. Successful female investors are successful because they’ve established long-term goals and savings targets. This practice is by no means limited to investing. In fact, savers with a plan are twice as likely to save successfully for things like retirement.

  2. Think about what motivates you to save, and create concrete and realistic savings goals around that motivation.

  3. Prioritize retirement savings: Enroll in any retirement options offered at your workplace and start making contributions as early and as often as possible. If your employer offers a match and you’re not taking advantage of it, you are leaving money on the table.

  4. If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan, or a plan that works well for you, you can save for retirement by putting money in an individual retirement account (or IRA) or opening a myRA retirement savings account through the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Compound interest will maximize your savings over time, helping to make retirement comfortable and ultimately combat the expenses of that longer lifespan. Learn more about IRAs and the different types here.

  5. Ask for help: Don’t miss out on opportunities to dig yourself out of a financial hole or enhance your financial literacy because of shame or unfamiliarity. Whether you are up to your ears in high-interest debt, tackling retirement savings, getting a divorce, or expanding your family, there are local and national resources, like the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) or the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC), available to help educate and support you on your unique financial journey.

Not sure if you’re in debt trouble? Find out by answering these four simple questions.

Tammy G. Bruzon works for America Saves, managed by the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America (CFA), which seeks to motivate, encourage, and support low- to moderate-income households to save money, reduce debt, and build wealth. Learn more at AmericaSaves.org.

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