Women: balancing family, career & financial security

The responsibilities of family life often fall primarily on women, leading to time out of the workforce or working part-time. This report examines how these factors put women at risk of being under prepared for retirement.

Time out of the workforce, or part-time work can negatively affect a woman's lifetime earnings, savings and compounding of investments, and even the value of vested employer and governmental retirement benefits.

Our report takes a closer look into the attitudes and behaviors of almost 8,000 women preparing for their retirement in 15 countries across the globe. It also features a number of face-to-face interviews with women in 12 countries.

The report provides compelling recommendations that can help women achieve a better, more comfortable retirement.

Key findings

Retirement aspirations around the world are broadly similar for women and men. Women hold the same positive aspirations; they want to spend their retirement traveling, spending time with friends and family and pursuing new hobbies.

Women have closed the gender gap with men in terms of educational achievement. Women in our survey are as likely as men to graduate from high school and to enjoy a successful college education.

However, the onset of family life and care for elderly parents impacts women disproportionately. Women are more often than men confronted by breaks in their careers. They are more than twice as likely as men to be found working in part-time jobs. Not surprisingly, this erodes women's earning power, their access to workplace retirement benefits, and their ability to save.

Many women are therefore less able to sustain regular retirement savings throughout their working lives and, unfortunately, retirement aspirations will not always fit reality.

Expectations for retirement can be measured by looking at the words women commonly associate with later life. Women are more likely than men to choose negative words, indicating a sense of anxiety about their retirement. A quarter (24%) of women associate retirement with "insecurity" and almost one-fifth (18%) with "poverty". In some countries such as Poland, Hungary and Japan the level of negative associations with retirement is relatively high. More positive minded women are found in China, Canada and Sweden.

The age at which women expect to enter retirement varies by as much as 12 years, according to where they live. On average, women expect to retire at the age of 62. Women expect to retire much later in the United States, around the age of 66, whereas in China the expected retirement age falls to just 53 years. This in part reflects the official age at which women become eligible to claim retirement benefits in each country.

Expected replacement income needed in retirement varies by 27% among women across the countries in the survey. Women in Hungary, for example, think they will need to replace up to 86% of their current earnings. This falls to 59% of working-age income among women in India.

The apparent anxiety deepens when women are asked about the outlook for their income in retirement. Only one-fifth (20%) of women overall feel they are on course to achieve the income in retirement they anticipate they will need. Furthermore, twice this amount (40%) simply don't know whether they are on course or not. This is at its highest in Japan at 62%.

Half (49%) of women in work are not confident they will be able to retire with a lifestyle that they consider comfortable. This peaks at 88% among women in Poland.

The clear lack of preparedness is also reflected by an overall score for women of just 5.5 (out of 10) on our Aegon Retirement Readiness Index. Men score a 6.0 on the Index. Across our surveyed countries the scores for women vary from 4.4 for Japan to 6.9 for India. For most countries the preparedness scores qualifies as "low" (which is below a score of 6).

Women are most confident about retirement in emerging economies, notably in China, India and Brazil.

Across the globe women are not taking the steps necessary to plan for their retirement. Only 10% say they feel very prepared and are already saving enough. More than twice as many (23%) say they feel "very unprepared" and are hardly saving at all.

Overall, only slightly more than one-third (36%) of women claim to be dedicated savers whose approach is always to make sure they are saving for retirement. These women tend to be older with an understanding of financial matters and highly developed financial planning skills.

Balancing family and work, especially when they have young children, makes it difficult for women to prepare for retirement. Not surprisingly, over half (54%) of women who are married or living with a partner anticipate they will be dependent on their spouse's income during retirement. Obviously, in such a situation a divorce or loss of a partner can quickly and dramatically change a woman's financial situation.

This lack of retirement preparedness contrasts with the otherwise confident and engaged behavior of women in other areas of their finances and decision-making. The vast majority (80%) are actively involved in managing household budgets and finances, suggesting that family life tends to focus women on the short-term, often at the expense of the longer term.

A major obstacle to saving could be eliminated if employers provided easier access to workplace retirement benefits (for example, by extending these benefits to those working part-time).

Our survey suggests a clear majority of women (74%) would favor automatic enrollment into retirement plans. Another area where employers can help women is by providing a flexible transition into retirement.

Only a minority of women (29%) expect to stop working immediately at retirement, for a variety of reasons. A clear majority now expect to work longer and have some form of phased transition into retirement.

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Recommendations

  • Extend, where necessary, workplace retirement plans to cover part-time workers thereby providing more employees, particularly women, the ability to save for retirement.
  • Implement automatic enrollment features in workplace retirement plans. Automatic enrollment has proven effective in encouraging employees to start saving consistently for retirement when they would otherwise have saved only occasionally, or delayed the decision to save completely. The convenience of automatic enrollment can result in more women, especially those who are busy juggling family and career, joining the plan and starting to save.
  • Implement automatic escalation features in workplace retirement plans. Auto-escalation automatically increases savings rates as salaries increase, and can help those with lower incomes (including many women) increase savings rates slowly over time.
  • Provide for equal maternity and paternity leave, making it easier for men to share in caregiving responsibilities for the birth of a child. In addition, provide the ability to take leave from work (paid or unpaid) to care for family members. This can help to balance work and caregiver responsibilities without having to necessarily sacrifice one over the other.
  • Provide assistance and information on caregiving services. Many employees, including both women and men, will likely be forced to take time off from work or make caregiving arrangements during the workday, which can result in lesser productivity in the workplace.
  • Provide social security or government "credits" for unpaid time spent by individuals in caregiving roles. In countries where government retirement benefits require people to make contributions during their working lives, unpaid caregivers who provide care to children or elderly relatives lose out in retirement. Such credits can recognize the wider economic value women provide outside the traditional labor market.
  • Expand the entitlement age range for receipt of government retirement benefits in all countries to reflect increasing longevity and workers' preferences for a phased transition into retirement. In some countries the retirement age is still unrealistically low. Employers and employees typically set the entitlement age for workplace retirement plans commensurate with the official date employees are eligible to begin receiving government retirement benefits.
  • Encourage the implementation of age-friendly workplace policies in recognition of the potential contribution of employees at all ages and the value of a multi-generational workforce. Some actions employers can take include ongoing education, learning and skill enhancement opportunities and removal of physical barriers that might impede productivity and accessibility of older workers. These policies can especially benefit women who live longer and have less time in the workforce.
  • Provide vocational training opportunities and support to help women remain economically active longer into their retirement. This can help many women take a more flexible approach to retirement, combining work and leisure.
  • Encourage the implementation of phased workplace retirement programs, which enable workers to stay in the workforce and transition gradually to retirement. Typically, these programs allow workers either to carry on working while still receiving pension benefits or to transition into part-time or less demanding jobs without jeopardizing benefits based on final average salary.
  • Facilitate the offering of investment advice inside the workplace, particularly in the context of workplace retirement plans. In addition, encourage the role of investment advisors in providing personalized retirement strategies both inside and outside the workplace. Personalized investment advice can make a significant difference in helping the individual in customizing a retirement plan that meets her particular situation. Such a customized plan should preferably also provide for a back-up plan to cover for unforeseen events.
  • Step up financial literacy courses in schools and workplaces (or as happens in the UK, through midwives working with new mothers). Such education could have an additional impact if provided to women at crucial moments in their lives – starting a family, for example – when their attitude toward saving may change.

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