WASHINGTON — Women are increasingly earning more money and significantly contributing to their household income. In fact, nearly two-thirds of women in the U.S. are now the primary breadwinner or co-breadwinner in their family. Today, they are also much more likely to head families on their own as single breadwinners.
Women as breadwinners are a relatively new phenomenon that came about as a result of several societal shifts. For starters, women are now more educated than ever before, and they are putting that education to work by making up nearly 50 percent of the nation’s workforce.
Women now earn more degrees than men. According to a Catalyst study, for the class of 2013-2014, women earned more than half of bachelor’s degrees (57.15 percent), master’s degrees (59.9 percent) and doctorate degrees (51.8 percent).
Secondly, since many more women pursue higher education, they are delaying other life events such as marriage and having a family.
While women now have more choices about whether to work, those choices add complexity to their financial decisions, especially when compared to families living out traditional roles. For example, if a woman defers childbearing into her 30s, she faces the difficult challenge of paying for her children’s college education while at the same time maximizing her retirement savings.
The third shift is that many more women are, quite unexpectedly, entering their 60s solo.
That often means they will work out of necessity and will need to manage their finances differently than their friends or family members who transition to retirement with a spouse. Whether as the result of divorce, early widowhood or the choice to never marry, being single and in your 60s dramatically changes the financial planning strategies and actions to address retirement income needs and potential long-term care costs.
Most breadwinner women are living a life that differs significantly from their mothers. Because they are contributing more income to support their lifestyles, the security of their family, and future retirement, their concerns are also much different.
Breadwinner women still face constraints of traditional roles and biases
Women who find themselves in the breadwinner role often have mixed emotions about the financial responsibility of supporting themselves as single women, or as providers for their family. And while many say they want help in building their wealth, societal norms and time constraints get in the way.
Studies show that working women continue to perform the majority of housework and child care duties. So, it’s not surprising that female breadwinners prioritize their financial matters immediately at hand (i.e. paying tuition or filing taxes), but often don’t have time for longer-range financial planning.
Less time may also mean limited financial conversations with their partners or financial advisers. Even when they are engaged in the financial planning process, female breadwinners find much of the mainstream investment and planning advice still assumes traditional gender roles of a working man and stay-at-home or lower-earning woman.
These challenges can get in the way of women being financially prepared, especially as most will outlive their spouses or need to support themselves should they enter retirement as a single woman.
So, to emphasize, for women who are breadwinners, their financial issues are different.
According to the 2016 U.S. Health Report, the average male life expectancy was 76.3 years in 2015 and women’s was 81.2 years. What is less well known is that, by the time they reach the age of 75, 70 percent of women will require assisted medical care at some point during the remainder of their lifetime.
They may need to retire later
These statistics have several implications, with one being that many women will choose or need to work into their late 60s and 70s. Older Americans are choosing to work later in life for better or cheaper health care options, even after they reach Medicare age.
Working longer also delays the need to draw down on savings to pay for living expenses, but it has even more important implications. By increasing the number of years to put money away in a retirement plan, women will have more resources available when they eventually retire.
Or, they may not be able to work longer
One planning concern is the overreliance on a woman’s ability to work later in life. With this as a major assumption, women’s retirement plans can be easily derailed if there’s an unexpected illness or if they’re needed for care giving.
For married breadwinners, there’s the challenge of coordinating retirement dates. If a female breadwinner is married and has a spouse who is already retired, then for lifestyle reasons, she may choose or feel pressure to retire early. That decision should be made only after carefully considering their savings and if it is sufficient to maintain the lifestyle they desire in retirement.
Their investments will have to generate more income
Living longer also means it’s even more important for a woman to consider the risk of being too conservative in the asset allocation of her portfolio.
If you retire at age 65 or 70, it’s likely you could live another 20 years or more, so your assets need to generate enough growth to outpace inflation. Retirees today will hold portfolios that in no way mirror those of retirees in prior generations. Not only were interest rates higher when our parents or grandparents were retired, many also benefited from pension income that guaranteed a level of cash flow to meet at least basic needs.
Competing priorities complicate their retirement planning
If you are a breadwinner primarily or solely responsible for your children’s education, or care for your aging parents, it can be a very difficult decision to prioritize your retirement planning above the needs of those you love.
It’s important to also consider the risks to you, so you don’t compromise your security in retirement. We recommend that you maximize retirement contributions to the extent you have sufficient cash flow and realize that saving into a tax-deferred account may provide enough of a tax break to make the savings affordable.
In the face of competing demands for your time and money, be sure to plan for retirement long before the day arrives
Breadwinner women are creating financial freedom for themselves and future generations of women. While being a female breadwinner comes with special financial challenges, those can be addressed with ongoing communication and careful financial planning along the way.
Times are changing quickly and organizations like Her Wealth® provide ways to connect with other breadwinner women and offer resources to become more financially empowered.
As women take control over their work lives, they have more power to take control of their wealth and to create the life they desire for themselves and their families.
Dawn Doebler is co-founder of Her Wealth® and senior wealth adviser at Bridgewater Wealth.
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