April 22, 2014 — This month we’re featuring a series of posts on wage discrimination and other issues facing working women to highlight the ongoing gender pay gap. Today Australian blogger Conrad Liveris describes the growing crisis facing women in Australia and the United States as they near retirement.
Most of my fellow twenty-somethings think of retirement as too far away to worry about—when they think of it at all. But at a time when most companies do not provide for their employees’ futures as conscientiously as they once did, we can’t afford to have this head-in-the-sand approach.
Companies ought to see contributing to employee pensions as a major social responsibility and a worthwhile long-term investment. But fewer and fewer do.
Meanwhile, the average woman is not saving nearly enough. According to the US Department of Labor, only 45% of women participate in company-sponsored retirement plans. And a recent Ameriprise Financial survey notes that most Americans have a $250,000 gap between what they’ll end up with at their current rate of saving and what they’ll need to retire comfortably.
Many women feel that their desire to care for their families is preventing them from saving adequately. They are concerned about becoming burdens to their partners or children. But if women can’t adequately prepare for retirement by remaining active in the workforce, then why should they bother working at all? What is the point if these women, too, are going to wind up dependent on men?
In fact, a lot of women become even more dependent on their (mostly male) partners in retirement than they were throughout their working lives. When these women divorce (and divorce rates have rocketed among baby boomers throughout the UK and Australia) or their partners die, they must contend with sudden poverty. It’s easy to write this off as a lack of short-term income, but for many people, especially women, the consequences are disastrous, leading to serious and often permanent financial instability—even, in some cases, homelessness.
The risk of not saving enough for retirement is a problem for everyone, but this issue disproportionately affects women, whose careers already lag men’s due to the wage and leadership gaps that persist throughout their working lives, adding up to less long-term economic stability—and less money for retirement.
I realise it’s unusual for me, as a twenty-something man, to worry so much about retirement. But I can’t help thinking about it as I watch my parents nearing theirs—and consider the reality that my mother, who has worked both inside and outside of the home for most of her life, could very well end up at least partially financially reliant on her children.
This is a problem for all women, regardless of marital status. A husband is not a guarantee of lifelong financial security. Nor is it wise, in today’s economy, to rely on grown children for financial support. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to establish a strong financial safety net early on—and ideal to find an employer who will meet you halfway.