According to a 2013 report from Aon Hewitt, women contribute an average of 6.9 percent of their pay to retirement accounts, compared to 7.6 percent for men. Investment research firm Hearts & Wallets also reported that 80 percent of spouses who were not involved in retirement-related decision-making were women.
Historically, women may have taken a back seat when it comes to making investment decisions, but there’s more to the retirement savings gap than gender politics, said Ann Marie Etergino, a managing director and financial advisor with RBC Wealth Management.
Longevity risk is a major factor, Etergino said. On average, women live about five years longer than men do, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Naturally, their money has to last longer.
However, most women underestimate just how long they’ll live, said Jennifer Reynolds, president and CEO of Women in Capital Markets, a Toronto-based organization that advocates for women in the capital markets industry.
“Many women live into their 90s, but they only expected to live to their 70s,” she said. “They made their money decisions years and years ago, but it’s a different reality today.”
More caregiving on less income
As far as gender equality has come, women still make just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, according to recent data from the White House. Of course, if you make less, you’ll save less, said Sarah Kaplan, associate professor of strategic management at Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
Women also tend to stay home more than men—often to raise children and, increasingly, to care for aging parents—and that has an impact on how much they earn, said Maureen Kerrigan, senior vice president, RBC financial advisor and president-elect of the company’s Women’s Association of Financial Advisors employee group.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 66 percent of caregivers are women, and female caregivers spend 50 percent more time providing care than male caregivers.
“We may step off the work treadmill for a little bit,” Kerrigan said. “If we end up being caregivers and that requires them to take time off work, then we’ll earn even less.”
Women are generally more risk-averse than men, said Etergino. Another Hearts & Wallets study found that female investors hold more cash than male investors. On average, they allocate 37 percent of their assets to bank savings, checking accounts or CDs—compared to men who allocate 25 percent. Men also have double the allocation to individual stock holdings compared to women.
“[Women] want stability of principal and there’s a cost that comes with a security like that,” said Etergino.
So what can women do to close the retirement savings gap?
1. Save aggressively
Naturally, saving early is a good rule of thumb, but for many people it’s easier said than done. For women, there needs to be an increased sense of urgency, which can be hard to come by when you’re in your 20s, said Kerrigan.
That’s why she suggests using a company’s 401(k) plan. You simply set it up at work and never have to worry about it again. You don’t have to get worked up about retirement to spur saving since the payment is taken off your check automatically.
Those making a sizeable income will want to contribute as much as the company will match, said Kerrigan. Many high-earning women will reach the annual IRS limits on 401(k) contributions. When that happens, look at utilizing other savings accounts, such as a 457 plan, which is a company plan that has some additional tax benefits, she added.
It’s always a good idea for high-net-worth women with complicated financial needs to talk to an advisor, said Kerrigan. Ultimately, though, “women should explore all available retirement opportunities and seek advice to determine which is most advantageous,” she said.
2. Have a long-term plan
It’s important to think long-term, said Etergino, and not just into the first few years of retirement. Women need to create a plan that extends well into their golden years.
Kaplan agreed. She knows it’s difficult for people in their 20s and 30s to think that far in advance, but people can’t rely on a spouse or even Social Security to get them through their longer lives. “We live in a society now where we have to think about these things,” she said.
Etergino has two suggestions for long-term saving. The first is that married women should keep an investment account in their own name. If a divorce should unfortunately occur, she will already have a nest egg built up.
This is important because studies show women experience a decline in wealth as they age. A study by Statistics Canada found that senior widowed women with the highest family incomes experienced a nearly 8 percent decline in their wealth five years after their spouse passed away.
The second is to never stop saving. “Women have to recognize that they’re going to live much longer than they anticipate,” Etergino said. “So the psyche early on has to be, ‘I’ll need to take care of this myself at some point, so I need to stay engaged both intellectually and through continuous contributions.’”
3. Don’t forget long-term care
Since women outlive men, many will have to manage their own long-term care. Those who don’t take this into account could derail an otherwise well-thought-out retirement saving plan.
Long-term care insurance is expensive and “it’s not getting any cheaper,” said Kerrigan. But it can be useful, especially if you can cover some health-related expenses yourself.
There are products you can buy over a three-to-five year time span, she said. If you pass away before using the long-term care insurance, then it may change into a life insurance policy that can get distributed to your beneficiaries.
Because of the costs of insurance, Etergino suggested that clients cover 50 percent of the health care costs themselves, and insure the other 50 percent.
While it will still take time before men and women are saving the same amount for retirement, it will happen, said Kerrigan. Why? Because women now have role models who save and invest.
“My mother never worked outside the home and when my father passed away, my mother didn’t know what to do,” said Kerrigan. “[Today], children see women earning money—and the impact that it has on their lives.”
This article was originally published on Forbes WealthVoice.