Women and retirement: What your mother (probably) never told you

Q: I’m a single woman in my early 50s. I’ve needed to cut back on my work recently to help take care of my mother, which has been affecting my ability to save as much money for my retirement. How much of an impact might this be having on my retirement planning?


A: First, I think it’s wonderful that you’re able to be there for your mother. Many women (and gay men more often than straight men) will likely find themselves in a similar situation of being the primary caregiver for an aging parent. Here are some thoughts to help keep your own plans on track.

As news reports, surveys and even the president and Congress continually point out, all Americans should be saving and investing more money. In its latest annual Retirement Confidence Survey, the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute found that, even though 78 percent of full-time workers report having saved for retirement, 57 percent said the total value of their household’s savings and investments — excluding the value of their primary home and any defined benefit plans — is less than $25,000. This includes 28 percent who say they have less than $1,000 in savings.1 

Clearly, saving for retirement is something that all of us should be taking seriously, but for women, in particular, the challenge can be somewhat greater.

The financial gender gap

Women, on average, earn 78 cents for every dollar men earn — a considerable difference over the course of a lifetime.2

Further, women are more likely than men to leave work to care for family members. While this trend doesn’t apply only to women (according to recent research, 40 percent of adult women and 37 percent of adult men provide unpaid care for a friend or family member), the average profile of a caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for her widowed mother.3 From my experience working with LGBT clients, I would suggest the average profile of gay men caring for a friend or family member may be similar.

Why is this significant? According to AARP, family caregivers who are at least 50 and leave the workforce to care for a parent forgo, on average, $304,000 in lost salary and benefits over their lifetime. These estimates range from $283,716 for men to $324,044 for women.3

Making the financial challenge more complex, women live longer than men, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Therefore, they tend to have longer retirements. What does all this mean? Simply that all women — whether single, married or divorced — should make planning for retirement a lifelong endeavor. No matter what your age or situation, it’s important to start planning for your future now. 

Working toward a solution

While there is clearly a gender gap in earnings, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics has shown improvements in women’s income. Higher earnings for women could mean the potential for more investments. Nonetheless, the bottom line is that in order to make up for differences in earnings and benefits, and more retirement years due to longer life spans, women may have to invest more. 

There are a number of steps women can follow when planning for a comfortable retirement:

• Carefully consider how much risk you are willing to take in exchange for the potential to earn higher returns. Historically, equity investments have provided higher returns over the long term than less risky investments like CDs and short-term bonds, although past performance is no guarantee of future results.4

• Obtain information about the retirement benefits that are available through your employer, and actively participate in any plans offered.

• Seek education about the investment vehicles that can help you reach your retirement goals. An investment professional is an excellent source of information and guidance to help you sort through the many choices available.

• Contact local professional/trade associations, women’s groups, community colleges and adult-education centers in your area for information on investment or personal-finance seminars taking place.

• Most important, women need to recognize the unique challenges they face and start saving and investing as early as possible to overcome them. 

To learn more about planning for retirement, contact your financial advisor today.

Jeremy R. Gussick is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional with LPL Financial, the nation’s largest independent broker-dealer.* Jeremy specializes in the financial-planning needs of the LGBT community and was recently named a 2014 FIVE STAR Wealth Manager as mentioned in Philadelphia Magazine.** He is active with several LGBT organizations in the Philadelphia region, including the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund and the Independence Business Alliance, the Philadelphia region’s LGBT chamber of commerce. OutMoney appears monthly. If you have a question for Jeremy, email [email protected] LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Advisor. Member FINRA/SIPC.


1Employee Benefit Research Institute, “2015 Retirement Confidence Survey,” April 21, 2015

2Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “The Gender Wage Gap, 2013,” September 2014

3”PBS News Hour, “Value of voluntary long-term care for family reaches staggering amounts,” April 8, 2014

4Investing in stocks involves risks, including loss of principal. Bonds are subject to market and interest-rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and are subject to availability and change in price. CDs are FDIC Insured and offer a fixed rate of return if held to maturity.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

This article was prepared with the assistance of Wealth Management Systems Inc. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax or legal advisor. Please consult me if you have any questions.

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*As reported by Financial Planning magazine, 1996-2015, based on total revenues.

**Award based on 10 objective criteria associated with providing quality services to clients such as credentials, experience, and assets under management among other factors. Wealth managers do not pay a fee to be considered or placed on the final list of Five Star Wealth Managers.