Women’s History Month: A Time to Reflect on Women’s Retirement Challenges

March 23, 2018 –

Guest author: Lori Lucas, President and CEO, Employee Benefit Research Institute

As we observe Women’s History Month, themed, “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” there are things to celebrate when it comes to women’s potential retirement security. Women are participating in workplace savings plans at a higher rate than men at every income level, and their contribution rates are higher, too.[1]

But women still face greater retirement challenges than men do—and ironically it’s due to their longevity. The typical woman can expect to outlive her male counterpart by 5 years (age 76 versus 81).[2] This alone carries financial ramifications.

However, as WISER points out in its Impact of Retirement on Women Report, because women live so long, they are:

– More likely to spend longer periods of time in a state of chronic disability

– Less likely to have a spouse-caretaker

In other words, not only are women likely to need to fund a longer retirement, they may also need to fund higher out-of-pocket health care costs in retirement as well.

An upcoming EBRI Issue Brief explores how much women are paying in out-of-pocket medical expenses in retirement compared to men, using actual reported medical expense of older individuals from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS).[3]

The data show that when it comes to women’s chances of entering a nursing home, at the age of 95 or later, women are 13.5 percentage points more likely to enter a nursing home than men. Once in a nursing home, expenses can be significantly higher for these older women than for their male counterparts. On average, the longest-lived women pay 44% more in cumulative out of pocket nursing home expenses than men ($75,310 and $52,365 respectively).

Again, the most likely explanation for this is that women live longer as singles, and so don’t benefit from spouses or partners as caregivers the way men may. This may hasten women’s entry into nursing homes as well as increase their length of stay once there. In other words, the evidence is that women are more likely to need more financial resources than men to meet their health care expenses during retirement, especially in cases where women who outlive their caregiving spouse or partner.

So how does this translate into women’s confidence in being able to retire comfortably? EBRI’s 2017 Retirement Confidence Survey finds only small differences between how women and men rate their confidence when it comes to various aspects of having enough retirement income

However, not surprisingly, roughly half of married men and women say they believe they will have enough money in retirement to pay for long-term care costs compared to 31 percent of single women being confident versus 36 percent of single men.

The results make several things clear: most single women are worried about their ability to sustain themselves in retirement, and this appears to be driven in good part by the specter of potential health care costs. But equally importantly, married women may be underestimating their likelihood of facing some of their retirement years alone—as well as the potential financial consequences.

WISER has plenty of information available at www.wiserwomen.org to help women plan and prepare for their future. Here are some resources:

10 Ways Women (and Men) can SAVE Themselves from Retirement Shortfalls

The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing

Don’t Run With Your Retirement Money: Understanding Your Resources and How Best to Use Them

Financial Steps for Caregivers: What You Need to Know about Protecting Your Money and Retirement

Social Security: What Every Woman Needs to Know


[1] How America Saves – Women versus Men in DC Plans. October 2015.

[2] Population Reference Bureau

[3] Cumulative Out-of-Pocket Health Care Expenses after the Age of 70

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