Women Face An Alarming Gap In Retirement Savings

Women scoring lower in investment knowledge and confidence says new report.

When it comes to preparing financially for retirement, women continue to lag behind men and need to step on the accelerator.

In its annual report, California-based Financial Finesse, a financial education firm, found that there's a 26 percent gap in the savings of men and women when it comes to retirement planning, based on replacing 70 percent of their income. The example is based on looking at the typical man and woman at the age of 45 based on median income.

Liz Davidson, the CEO of Financial Finesse, says working women will have to save more and at a much faster pace just to keep up with the average expenditures they'll face in retirement. She said there's a 95 percent "purchasing power" gap between men and women when it comes to the money needed to fund retirement.

Davidson says based on numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 45-year-old man will have a savings shortfall of $267,233 to meet average retirement expenses at 65. It's a $522,262 for a woman.

"The cost of goods and services does not change based on your gender," Davidson says. "Women need to know that they fundamentally will have to save more, on average, to adequately fund retirement compared to their male counterparts."

Greg Ward, director of Financial Finesse's think tank, says the report is like looking at a medical analysis that forecasts the risk of various diseases.

"All things being equal, women face a greater likelihood of running out of money in retirement," Ward says. "However, averages are not what matters. What matters is your situation. If you're in a situation where you are saving a large percentage of your income and investing appropriately based on your time horizon, you reduce your risk dramatically -- just like when you eat well and exercise to reduce your risk of disease."

The study also pointed out the discrepancies between men and women when it comes to investing and money management. Ward says men are more confident in their financial decision making than women.

The study shows that there was a 17-point gap between men and women when it came to general investment knowledge. Men received an 84 percent score compared to 17 percent for women.

In terms of asset allocation, men scored 48 percent compared to 34 percent for women, a 14-percent gap.

The gap was 17 points for having an emergency fund. Men scored 63 percent, and women scored 48 percent.

Men also scored higher for paying credit cards in full. They had a 67 percent mark compared to 50 percent for women, a 17-point gap.

While the report highlights concerns for women, Scott Spann, who worked on the report, says women who use financial wellness programs have been making improvement since 2012. They jumped 4.2 percentage points as to their confidence that they're on track to meet their retirement goals.

"Working women are more likely than men," Ward says, "to take advantage of financial education and coaching provided by their employers."

Davidson says that if companies want to help women overcome the financial gender gap when it comes to retirement preparation, these three tips will help:

1) The financial wellness gap is largest for employees under age 45, so focus on the different demographics of women in your workforce with proactive education that is targeted to their life stage, interests, and goals and make the education collaborative and actionable.

2) To encourage saving more for retirement, add an automatic contribution escalation feature to your plan design, and couple it with basic money management education to help reduce opt-out rates and financial stress.

3) Offer unbiased guidance that is easy to understand. According to the Prudential Financial Experience & Behaviors Among Women study, only one in five women believe that the financial services industry truly understands their needs; they want less jargon and a greater sense that who they're listening to for financial guidance is truly looking out for their best interests.

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