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What Women Worry About in Retirement

Category: Financial and taxes in retirement

June 24, 2019 — Women tend to do more of the worrying than men, at least in the circles we travel in. And for us men, that is usually a good thing for our preservation. When it comes to women’s big fears about retirement, the research primarily focuses on money concerns, but there is no shortage of other worries. We’ll cover the common concerns that we are aware of, but we are eager to hear what yours are in the Comments section at the end.

Top Worries – Money

A study published by the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies reported that 46% of women were concerned they wouldn’t have a comfortable retirement lifestyle. By comparison, only 31% of men had similar concerns.

Photo courtesy of  Cflgroup Media from Pexels

Running out of money. This is the biggie. The Motley Fool reports that 42% of women fear they will run out of money before they reach age 80. It seems they worry for good reason too. Only 9% of women, who tend to earn far less than men over their lifetimes, have saved at least $300,000 for retirement. Since a typical retirement might require over $700,000 in savings or an equivalent pension, that isn’t going to be enough.

Here’s why. The average Social Security retirement benefit was about $17,000 a year in 2018. Since it is pretty hard to live on that amount, either your nest egg or a job has to make up the difference. Let’s take an example of a 66 year old woman who figures she needs $45,000 a year to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. If she receives the average Social Security income, she needs $28,000 per year more. She will be OK if her retirement nest egg equals $700,000 and she applies the 4% rule, the most common withdrawal technique.

But if her nest egg is less, let’s say only $300,000, she has a problem. If she still withdraws $28,000 per year to support her lifestyle, she is probably going to burn through that nest egg somewhere around her 80th year, depending on how well her investments do. For the record: a 4% withdrawal on $300,000 equals $12,000/year.

Life expectancy issues. Another money concern that women have relates to their longer life expectancy. At age 65 the average woman has a life expectancy of 20.6 years, whereas a man’s is 18. It doesn’t matter if the woman is single or in a relationship, odds are she is going to have more years to worry about running out of money than a man does.

Taking care of the finances. If a woman is single, she is used to handling the financial side of life. Hopefully she is confident about her skills, but it is probably safe to say that many woman (and men too) are concerned about being taken in or victimized by a shady or incompetent financial advisor. In many heterosexual relationships it is often the male who handles the finances. If the female is not kept up to speed about where the money is, how it is invested, and how to get it out, the survivor could face some very challenging problems. It is a topic that should be worried about – early on – but is often ignored.

Loneliness. The New York Times reported in “Aging Golden Girls” that according to a study at the University of California, San Francisco, 43 percent of older people have feelings of loneliness. Women worry about losing their spouse and their friends, or being ignored by their children (if they have them). Living arrangements can have a lot to do with loneliness – living by yourself in the suburbs is not usually a good solution.

Who will take care of me. If a woman has children, will they have the ability and inclination to help as she ages? If childless, the options are more stark. A 2015 report by the AARP made a prediction that the ratio of potential family caregivers will decline precipitously. While recently there were 6.8 potential family caregivers for each person 80 years old; the ratio might fall to fewer than 3 to 1 by 2050.

What if my husband or I get sick. Women tend to be better caregivers, so if she is the one to become ill she might have to count on her husband, if she has one. If her male partner, who is more likely to die before she does, gets very sick she might have to become a full-time nurse. Having the resources to hire needed help can be a concern too.

Where to live. Women can be torn about where to retire. Should they live near their children or grandchildren, or a place that fits their lifestyle better? What if the husband wants to retire somewhere where the woman doesn’t?

Mobility. Particularly if you are single, losing the ability to walk long distances or drive can narrow the borders of one’s life. Unfortunately, both men and women tend to think this won’t happen to them.

What if I become a bag lady. Related to running out of money, many women fear they will have nowhere to live and be dependent on the kindness of strangers.

Fear of becoming invisible. Women probably experience this more as they age and the culture of youth makes them feel less wanted. You can make up for it with your personality, but it is not that easy.

Bottom line. Retirement can bring enjoyment, but it also can come along with many worries. A giant concern for women is having enough money so they don’t run out before they die. But there are a raft of other problems as a source of worry too.

Comments? What worries do you have about retirement? Do you think they differ for women vs. men? What are your biggest concerns? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

For further reading:

Posted by Admin on June 23rd, 2019

28 Comments »

  1. Personally, I think men would worry about most of the same subject matter. Maybe even worse if the spouse has been handling all the bills, social events such as birthdays, family gatherings, doctor appointments. If a man has been depending on his spouse his entire life and the spouse becomes sick or dies, he may feel helpless and in a lot of turmoil of how to get his life in order if all the responsibilities fall into his lap at once.

    Limited income is scary for anyone retired. People should try to figure out things before they do run out of money such as finding a place to live that bases rent on income or down size dramatically to a smaller home. Low income senior apartments. Snap (food stamps) if eligible. Senior centers can advise on transportation to doctor appointments, heating assistance, rent assistance. Low cost senior lunches at the centers. It is important to take advantage of the services available to seniors.
    Some towns have a senior program, based on income, to reduce taxes on the home. That is another thing the senior center could advise on.

    Many seniors are too proud to take assistance. These programs are there to help and if eligible, they should be used. They are lifelines that help stretch money.

    by Louise — June 24, 2019

  2. It’s true in my circle too; we ladies do tend to worry more! But it’s what we do with all that worry-energy that is important. Do we let it paralyze us or do we use it as a motivation to plan, plan, plan. My “worry habit” is to think about everything that could go wrong when making major decisions and then thinking take about how each of those things could be handled (of at all) and then if I can live with the worst outcome should it occur, can more forward with confidence. Sure, some of the what-if sessions take place in the middle of the night but that’s when I do my best thinking 😉 .

    by Jean — June 24, 2019

  3. I don’t worry – I am the planner and the spreadsheet is my friend. Louise is right – my husband does depend on me to manage the social things, family things, meals, etc. and especially the money/bills. He was away (USNavy) early on and later, long hours with work, so I handled the domestic end. A while back, I realized that HE worried that we wouldn’t be able to retire. I would tell him about investments or savings we had but he didn’t really comprehend. SO, I created a list of all accounts and assets for him to read – made a big difference. When he was forced, by health, to retire early, he knew what we had so when we met with the financial guys, it was all there with totals at the bottom.

    I recommend that ANYONE do that for their spouse. It is kept on a separate hard drive and I update totals from some online info. as well as statements we get in the mail. I keep a hard copy in the front of a binder that has a list of all our account numbers, names & phone numbers of reps and any other accounts or contacts we use (like Drs., the Vet, electric company, etc.) as well as up-to-date copies of all statements. Our sons know to go to THE BOOK, if anything ever happens to both of us. Policies, passports, certificates, etc. are kept in THE BOX.

    With all of that, I am still AMAZED at how many of my friends in their 50s & 60s have NO idea what their situation is. I have suggested that they talk to their husbands about accounts and bills but….most are reluctant or have been shrugged off.

    by Flatearth6 — June 24, 2019

  4. What the article glosses over is the fact that more and more divorces late in life leave women with less financial stability and fewer choices. It may be a regional phenomenon, but I know more women who divorced after age 5O than I know married women. Seems that many marriages fall apart after the kids have been raised. Financial worries become overwhelming for divorced women who had primary child rearing responsibilities and earned less than their husbands(who had the luxury of devoting their full time to earning money). It is a growing problem for women of our generation. We hear a great deal from political candidates about tax payer funded child care for all, universal preK, tax payer funded college, federal taxpayers paying off college debt, and on and on. We hear nothing about increasing senior housing, alleviating high property taxes for seniors, and eliminating taxes on Social Security. When they advocate for “Medicare for all”, they mean that our hard earned Medicare will be threatened and will cost more for all of us. Our generation of women worked hard to get through college, paid off our own student loans, raised our own children without assistance from taxpayers and many stayed home for a period because there was no daycare then, put our kids through colleges that we could afford and paid off their loans. Yet, so many women of our generation are now behind the 8 ball with no help in sight. Instead, we are being asked to pay ever increasing fed, state, and local taxes to provide unheard of tax payer funded benefits to able bodied younger generations. Senior single women have no voice and no politician takes up our cause.

    by Maimi — June 24, 2019

  5. I always keep MURPHY’S LAW’S on my back burner!

    by Bubbajog — June 24, 2019

  6. My greatest retirement fear is my husband or I (or both) suffering severe cognitive losses through Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. He’s got the same worry.

    We’ve both walked this path with a parent and I can tell you that the two parents who had medical problems without intellectual issues had much easier late-in-life years than the two who were in good shape physically but had serious cognitive erosion. We don’t want to burden ourselves, each other, or our children with that nightmare. We are looking into whether there are any states or countries that permit advance suicide directives in those situations.

    Being close geographically and emotionally to our children, we aren’t concerned about whether one or more would step in to help us, or orchestrate help, when and if those conditions steal our memories and intellect. We know they would We just prefer to not put them in that position.

    We have planned our finances so that they will not be a source of great worry, barring some sort of disaster, of course. Our plans include arranging SS benefits to maximize our monthly checks, eliminating all debt, saving enough to amass a decent nest egg, buying used vehicles and large appliances when ours need replacing, obtaining life insurance policies that we’ll hold until age 70, when the higher SS will kick in, and spending conservatively since retiring a few years ago.

    I also worry terribly for the future of the planet.

    by JCarol — June 24, 2019

  7. This lady is a great role model and doesn’t seem to have much time to worry. 🙂
    https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/good-news/still-working-for-the-state-after-76-years-99-year-old-woman-shares-her-secrets-to-health/ar-AADlC2w

    by jean — June 25, 2019

  8. Jean, wouldn’t it be great if we all stayed healthy for 100 years, but that is not realistic. Most single women I know work until they get sick or die and have no time to sit around worrying. I personally can’t wait to get back to work of some sort after recovering from cancer treatments. It is a necessity in many ways for millions of older American women.

    by Maimi — June 26, 2019

  9. Maimi, Of course “life happens”, I think the role model part with that lady is that she seems to find joy in what she does while she just keeps on going like that energizer bunny. Maybe that’s the message in her example, look for some little spark of happiness (or joy) everyday. Sometimes it’s tough but smiling (even forced) makes people feel better and feeling better makes people feel even better, etc. And I am aware of the financial realities of many older women. My sister and her ex split when after their children where grown and out of the house and she had only had small part time jobs for years and suddenly had to figure things out. She’s now 69 has a clerical/admin job in an office with lots of interaction with all sorts of people which she loves and plans on continuing for at least another 4 or 5 years. She’d be there whether she liked it or not since she needs the money and the health benefits but finding happiness makes going to work something to look forward to.

    by Jean — June 26, 2019

  10. I worry about retirement because I have always handled our finances “by default” – my husband has zero interest in being involved, and has made poor career/financial decisions as a result. Even when I have tried to discuss topics such as downsizing from our current house and moving to a less expensive/taxing state, he refuses to consider changing anything. His parents were also financially naive; after his dad died his mother ended up losing her house and going on Medicaid. Every time I read an article about how the husband usually handles finances and the wife is financially illiterate, I just shake my head and think “not in my marriage”. My husband will be in real trouble if I happen to be the first to go.

    by Cheryl — June 26, 2019

  11. Women or men here is the problem with money. Too many people have spoiled themselves in our society by giving in to wants, not needs. Constantly putting things on credit. That $700,000 figure made me laugh. So did the $45,000 a year to be comfortable. I’ve been retired for 14 years on far less. I do a lot of traveling around during the 6 months of winter, either renting or in my RV. So perhaps people need a course in needs vs wants.
    Yes, if I couldn’t drive anymore that would be a huge change. Do research all the time on places where you can easily get around without driving so you have some options before that happens. Be flexible. You may not be able to afford to live where you have been and may have to move. Retirement in places like NY City or San Francisco are too expensive. For one thing stop thinking you owe free living space to visiting children or friends. I read about seniors buying a retirement house and it is still a three bedroom. It cost money to run a free motel. Again, needs vs wants.

    by Bob — June 27, 2019

  12. Maimi, I’ve been mulling over the situation you described above because many are in a similar boat. I stopped working outside the home for nearly ten years after our first child was born and worked part time for our small business after that.

    After a few years of zeroes on my earnings, which I found insulting because I consulted on the business, I insisted that the profits we took out of our business each year (subject to income and SS taxes) be split equally between us. When the highest 35 SS years were tallied, DH’s earnings still outstripped mine, but my SS is far more than it would have been if we didn’t share those earnings.

    It leads me to the question of why our (quite legal) practice can’t be an option for married couples who receive W2 salaries from their employers. If John & Jane Doe decide that John will stay home to raise the children and manage the homefront, while Jane works long hours in a profession she loves, why shouldn’t they be able to decide that their contributions are equal – and let them manage that however they decide is most fair, as long as they file jointly so the IRS and SS will get at least what they would have received otherwise?

    by JCarol — June 27, 2019

  13. Jean, of course we need to find joy in our poverty, but that is not the point. Not all elderly women are in good health enough to work full time to get by. There needs to be a solution that does not exist right now. Lots of talk about free stuff for younger generations, but not much talk about helping single senior women who cared for their own children and now are being asked to pay high taxes for big government spending programs. It is an issue that must be addressed. It is not enough to say just smile.

    by Maimi — June 27, 2019

  14. I’m with you Maini regarding the high taxes taken to support , well, you know. Your point about older folks who are unable to work (not just women) and who struggle to get by is valid. But it is a tough thing. I knew several women who have been single either all their lives or for quite a few years who made good salaries but spent, spent, spent – like leased BMWs rather than buying a honda, amazingly extravagent travel a few times a year, etc. How can they expect to maintain that style of living when they never saved anything? For those of us who have lived below their means for years and now enjoy our retirement, I am not so sympathetic. We do not have children so always had that in the back of our minds – who will we rely on to take care of things if we are unable, and planned for that – one concern for me is the problem of crime (fraud, theft) of the elderly by people paid to provide support. (Even though I havent lived in NJ I still look at NJ.com daily and am shocked by the frequent stories about lawyers, financial advisers, home health aides, and family members who steal huge sums from the people who trust them). If there are children, I cant imagine why they would not help support a parent. That’s what my family and my inlaws do. If the money is tight, those kids give their time. But….. being happy and smiling has nothing to do with one’s current situation. As Abraham Lincoln once said: “We’re just about as happy as we make up our minds to be”, and I can tell you from first hand experience, being happy makes living through horrible life events a lot more tolerable.

    by Jean — June 27, 2019

  15. Men and women will always have fears about running out of money or dying alone, especially those of us with no children or close relatives.

    As a former medical professional (nurse), I would be concerned about being treated well while aging. I have seen the staff in a nursing home treat those with families differently than those with no visitors. Keep this in mind, there is NO federal or state mandate as to a ratio of nurses/caregivers to the resident population in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Many caregivers are underpaid and overworked and it shows in their attitudes to the residents. There may be one or two certified nursing assistants to the whole patient population and only one registered nurse per unit, and they may only pass medications. I worked with the ombudsmen for Assisted Living and Nursing homes in Maryland and the District of Columbia and it opened my eyes as to elder abuse. The federal laws need to be strengthened in this regard. You can check the track record of a facility and it is best to do this before there is a need. Know of the best ones in your price range. In an emergency choices are few especially, if funds are low. Stay close to your clergy and church or whatever religous affiliation you may have, they can help a lot by visiting you and showing that someone does care. For those who are not particularly religous, make strong friendships around you.

    Please remember that not everyone gets decrepit as they age. We focus too much on the negatives of aging. True, we will all die of something, but in the meantime it is best to live your life in a healthy, active way. Illness or an accident can also strike, but do not focus on just that. Fears have a way of coming true if given much credence. Try to be prepared and have a plan in place as best you can. Life happens, but try to focus on the positives at every stage.

    by Jennifer — June 28, 2019

  16. Jean, your comments about elderly single women are really upsetting and reflect a total dismissal of the realities of baby boomer women who struggled to raise families alone before there was reasonable child care, family work policies, or recognition of the needs of single women in the workplace. Clearly, you have no idea what older women like me and millions of others were up against in the work world. That comment about BMW’s is just absurd.

    by Maimi — June 28, 2019

  17. Maimi, I did not intend to upset you with my comments. As a boomer myself I am well aware of the decisions those in my cohort have had to make, some great others not so good. Lets leave it at that.

    by Jean — June 29, 2019

  18. Maimi – I think you may have misread Jean’s comment. She was only referring to single career women without families, who were solely responsible for their own financial planning. The comment about BMWs was a reference to some particular friends. I have seen exactly the same thing that Jean described. Sadly, I have a female family member who falls into the category that Jean described. She spent every dollar she earned during her working years on vacations, concerts, new cars, etc. and never saved for retirement. Now she’s exhausted and unhappily working at a low paying job (all she could find) at age 69. I once talked to talk to her about my financial worries about since our family savings had to be spent down on care for my spouse over a decade due to his terminal, degenerative illness. She actually laughed at me when she was in her 40s and said she had plenty of time. I’ve taught all of my kids to be ants, not grasshoppers, especially my daughter. I think you’re both right that many women in our generation didn’t plan for their own worst-case-scenarios and are now in dire straights.

    by Kate — June 29, 2019

  19. Quick add — I also thought JCarol’s idea was a good one. (If a spouse wasn’t willing to honor a spouse’s contribution fairly, it would certainly be a red flag.) And the initial list is good, and can apply to both men and women.

    Sorry about the typo in 1st post. I will try to proofread.

    by Kate — June 29, 2019

  20. Maimi: No one has ever disagreed with you about single Moms having it very tough, and no one ever said single Moms lease BMWs. Like Jean, I’ll leave it now.

    by Kate — June 30, 2019

  21. We would love to hear some other voices/ideas on the fears that women face in retirement. And if any men want to chime in with what keeps them up at night, please feel free!

    by Admin — July 1, 2019

  22. To me the fear that is almost never mentioned but which could well affect most of us is loss of abilities. While this certainly includes physical, we mostly are aware of that. More concerning to me for myself and those I love is the often slow decay of mental capacity. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are well known and definitely concerning. But what about that almost imperceptible change that can affect our ability to manage our lives and finances? Will we perceive when we need to have help? We took over my mother’s money management in her early 80s because she clearly didn’t recognize that she was unable to manage. A few years later I discovered that she was confusing her medication administration — she had no idea. Later, her rapid descent into severe dementia was notable for the speed, but she was never fully aware of why we took over full control of even routine activity and quickly had to find an assisted living facility for her protection. Even the best facilities can’t monitor everyone every minute of the day/night. Her death at 89 was the direct result of a fall which occurred between care keepers’ rounds.

    The spreadsheet I developed 26 years ago takes more effort to keep updated. The budget we manage seems to need more after the fact corrections — how was THAT missed? We’re still far from incapable (at least I hope), but we don’t have the same full awareness that we had at retirement 16 years ago. Keep me awake at night? No. Add something of a weight to my life? Yes.

    by RichPB — July 1, 2019

  23. When I retired last year at 59, I had the option of taking a monthly pension or a lump sum. I also have a substantial 401k, and my wife a small pension when she Pretires (schoolteacher). While I personally strongly wanted to take my retirement as a lump sum and take what the market will give us, my wife wanted the certainty of a monthly pension that continued if I passed away first. Easy decision…monthly pension to allay her fears if I leave first. 401k will still be there, but she doesn’t have to worry about withdrawal decisions if there’s a reliable monthly check coming in.

    Now she BETTER not spend it on the pool boy 😉

    by Greg W — July 1, 2019

  24. I want the capability to leave on my own terms before I look into the mirror and realize I am no longer a MAN!

    by Bubbajog — July 1, 2019

  25. Greg W you are very lucky to have a pension! My husband and I worked hard and saved, but there’s not the security of a pension (although if mismanaged they too could fail). Since interest rates are being kept so low, retirees have no really secure source of income like the “widows and orphans” bonds and CDs of the past making 5% or more. I worry about the same things – declining physical and mental health, income, etc. My parents are 93 and didn’t expect to live so long – that’s a long time to live on SS and savings, no matter how careful we are.

    by Jini — July 10, 2019

  26. My biggest concerned is money and health. Not having good health is the worst especially if you live alone. Don’t want to depend on others to help you get around that would be a burden. The children have their own problems raising their kids and their own financial problems. Unfortunately, didn’t save enough for retirement,thought I never get old but is like a thieve at night that comes unexpectedly. Now about the money,if you make you under 25K a year you can live in an affordable housing, if you make more than that then you not eligible for anything. Is like being stuck in the middle, to have and have not.

    by Rosario — July 10, 2019

  27. To Jini and others – even if you don’t have a large nest egg over and above your Social Security, it would likely be helpful to see a fee-based financial adviser. They may be able to show you ways you could grow your savings and income during your senior years. I know mine has given me advice that I wasn’t aware of, and it really did help.

    by Clyde — July 11, 2019

  28. My husband and I are nearing retirement (I’ll be 66 in November) or past retirement age (he’s 72) but still work full time. We upsized our home 3 years ago to accommodate a visiting growing family with grandchildren. We have a mortgage but make enough income to cover expenses while working. We made a sizeable down payment so it will be nearly paid off once we sell our first home–that is a nightmare situation with very bad, non-paying tenants we are working with a lawyer. We have a 401K, 403b, some savings, life insurance, etc. I do not mind working and he dreads retirement. Our kids are financially successful and have promised to manage our care and finances when we are unable to. Hope that never happens but as a nurse, I know it is more likely than not.

    by Jo — July 11, 2019

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