There are significant gender differences when it comes to retirement.  For many women, retirement or the prospect of retirement may not be the relaxing retreat it is reputed to be.  In general, women earned less over their lifetimes than men and live longer in retirement, and they tend to have less money saved when they reach retirement.  According to the Government Accountability Office, 12 percent of women over age 65 live in poverty, compared to only 7 percent of men. Women frequently don’t have continuous full-time employment because they are more likely to take time out of the paid workforce, reduce their hours, or become self-employed. They do this in order to raise children and, in later years, many make similar choices to care for elderly relatives.

Marriage and relationship breakdown often has a greater financial impact on women, including on their retirement income; and the fact that women’s lower retirement savings have to be spread over a longer period than men’s retirement savings because they live longer.  A woman who is 65 years old today can expect to live to age 85, while a 65 year old many can expect to live only to age 81.  Women have lower lifetime earnings, because of this women reach retirement with smaller pensions and other assets than men do.  Elderly, unmarried women, including widows, get 51 percent of their total income from social security.  Unmarried elderly men get 39 percent; elderly married couples get 36 percent.  For 25 percent of unmarried women Social Security is their only source of income, compared to 9 percent of married couples, and 20 percent of unmarried men.

Social Security

Social Security has an inflation protected benefit that will last as long as you live, it is impossible to outlive one’s social security benefit.  The social security spousal benefit helps many women, even if they did not work at all outside the home.  74 percent of elder widows receive benefits based on earnings of their deceased spouse.  Social Security provides benefits to spouses of any age who care for children under age 16 if the worker (other spouse) is retired, becomes disabled, or dies.


 News reports speculate that the possibility of inheriting some money at one time or another will be a huge transfer of wealth to the baby boom generation, but the inheritance picture may not be so promising.  As women think about retirement planning, it may be useful to factor in any inheritance receive from parents. Knowing how much to expect requires a broad discussion with parents about estate planning, a difficult topic to raise because it involves discussions about money and death, two subjects that are very personal and uncomfortable for most people.

Women should make the most of any inheritance they receive.  The median value of what boomer families received from an inheritance was about $64,000.00.  While this seems like a lot of money, it is not going to provide for all of one’s financial and retirement needs. If you do receive an inheritance, make the most of it.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t Do Anything – Losing a family member is difficult; take time to grieve.  While doing so, deposit the money in a stable, liquid account such as a money market account.  You can afford to take a couple of months to deal with your emotional needs rather than rushing into investments that you may regret later.
  • Don’t Blow It – When you receive an inheritance, you may feel rich.  It’s alright to spend a small amount of it on yourself, but do not blow it all on a boat, or a trip that you really cannot afford.
  • Make a Plan – Decide what you are going to do with the money before spending any of it.  Make a plan; it forces you to really think about what you want to do.
  • Pay off Debt – Consider paying off high-interest consumer or credit card debt.
  • Invest for the Future – Think about using the money to build a secure future.  Figure out how much you need to save for retirement and invest wisely in financial products that guarantee no loss of principal.  These types of safe financial products provide a slower interest growth, but with the current volatile economy, you want to make sure you do not lose what money you started with in the first place.
  • Inheriting IRAs – If you inherit an IRA, you can continue to take advantage of tax-deferred savings as a beneficiary.  The rules are different for spouses and non-spouses, and traditional and Roth IRAs.  Check with an estate planning attorney.