The Retirement Planning Gender Gap, Revealed in 5 Charts

Taylor Shuman Taylor Shuman Senior Tech Expert & Editor

Between rising living costs and growing economic uncertainty, preparing for retirement has become increasingly daunting for millions of Americans. However, a recent study of older adults by Seniorliving.org found that many women have an even more difficult time than their male counterparts.

Here are the key findings from our latest research we’ll illustrate in five charts below:

  1. Older women are twice as likely as older men to feel “very unprepared” for retirement.
  2. Older women are more concerned than older men about inflation, living costs, and the future of Social Security.
  3. Older women are more likely to talk about their money with their kids: 72% of older women have discussed their finances with their adult children, compared to 63% of older men.
  4. Older women are more interested in collaborating with their children when choosing retirement housing: 35% of older women want their kids to be “very involved” in their future housing decisions, compared to 22% of older men.
  5. Daughters of older adults want to be more involved in their parents’ housing decisions than sons.

1. Older women are twice as likely as older men to feel “very unprepared” for retirement

While just 41 percent of all older adults feel ready for retirement, this sentiment is less common among older women. In fact, women are twice as likely as men to say they are “very unprepared” financially for their retirement years.

How financially prepared are you for retirement

What’s behind this gender difference? It could be rooted in how older Americans have managed their finances and how laws restricted women in the past. Until the 1980s, women in the United States didn’t even have full rights over property and assets they held jointly with their husbands. Also, among the Boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964), men often made significant financial decisions such as:

  • How much to save each year
  • How the money gets invested (i.e., choosing stocks or bonds)
  • How much money they’ll need during retirement

For these reasons, older men often have more awareness of their financial status and a better understanding of how much they have saved for retirement. Women who haven’t been involved in the family finances or who haven’t had the opportunity to become financially educated can feel insecure about their ability to retire comfortably.

2. Older women are more concerned than older men about inflation, living costs, and the future of Social Security.

Recent financial trends like soaring inflation and rising cost-of-living expenses have become more concerning for Americans of all ages. However, those who are retired and on fixed incomes find these increasing costs to be particularly concerning – especially with the possibility of changes coming to Social Security or pension benefits.

Yet, these threats are not viewed the same among older men and women. For example, when talking about inflation specifically, 75 percent of women surveyed were concerned, versus 65 percent of men. In fact, when looking at each concern row by row below, we can see that women consistently express more anxiety over each one than their male counterparts.

Percentage of older adults with financial concerns

One key factor influencing why women would have more financial concerns than men is the gender pay gap. Over a lifetime, women earn less than their male counterparts, meaning they simply have less to set aside for their retirement years. Though women are more likely to participate in 401(k) savings plans, they tend to have smaller balances in those accounts than men because they earn less.

Another factor involves women’s health outcomes: Women tend to outlive men by nearly six years. As a result, they must figure out how to make their retirement savings last longer while planning for their long-term care and housing needs. Women married to men would also have a higher chance of having to get by for several years on a single income if they outlive their partners.

Even though women tend to outlive men, both groups had a very similar level of concern regarding healthcare costs. Healthcare costs had been trending upward for decades in the U.S. and rose even more dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic. For older people, who tend to have more health conditions than younger adults, healthcare is even more expensive.

3. Older women are more likely than older men to talk about their money with their kids.

While nearly 70 percent of older Americans with adult children had spoken to them about their retirement finances, the trend was clear that women are far more open to doing so. Approximately 37 percent of senior men had yet to consider broaching the subject with their children.

Percentage of older adults who have spoken with children financial status

This behavior may be rooted in how people from this generation were raised by their families. While it’s much more acceptable for younger Americans to discuss finances openly, most Baby Boomers grew up in families that rarely, if ever, talked about money.

Amongst this generation, money is considered personal and too taboo to discuss with others, even family members. Combine this with the traditional gender role of men being more involved with the family finances than women, and it’s no secret why they’d be more tightlipped about their money.

Women, however, tend to be more open about personal matters and emotions. This can translate into a greater willingness to discuss sensitive topics like finances. Additionally, since they are likely to live longer than men, they may be more open to gaining their adult children’s support and perspective when planning their finances.

4. Older women are more interested in collaborating with their children when choosing retirement housing

There are many reasons why older Americans would want their adult children to be involved with decisions about where they’ll live. However, the group most in favor of family participation is senior women.

How involved do you want children to be housing decisions

This trend may come back to the inherent longevity of women. Given the number of potential financial implications as well as physical challenges they may face as they get older, women may be more receptive to moving into smaller homes or even assisted living facilities. This sentiment becomes even more apparent as we look at where older adults in need of assistance are willing to live.

Where do you plan to live if you need assistance? Men Women All older adults
In my home 64% 47% 53%
An independent senior living facility (e.g. senior apartments, etc.) 18% 23% 21%
In my child(ren)’s home 6% 14% 11%
Another place 2% 7% 5%
An assisted senior living facility (e.g. nursing home, etc.) 9% 7% 8%
In another relative’s home 2% 1% 1%

Senior women are more likely than men to consider moving out of their homes if they need living assistance in the future. About 53 percent of older women would be open to relocating, especially to their adult children’s homes. This trend may stem from familiarity or even a desire to be close to grandchildren. By comparison, only 36 percent of men would want to move out of their homes if they needed assistance with day-to-day living.

Among older adults, 11 percent expressed willingness to live with their children for assistance, whereas 22 percent of adult children stated their parents could live with them. This is an interesting disparity that suggests that older adults may see themselves as burdens to their children or that they simply don’t know that their children would want them to move in if needed.

5. Daughters of older adults want to be more involved in their parents’ housing decisions than sons

The study discovered that adult daughters of older Americans are more open to participating in their parents’ housing decisions: 43 percent of daughters wanted to be involved, compared to only 31 percent of sons.

How involved to you want to be in parents housing decisions

Not only do daughters tend to want to be more involved in decision-making, but other studies have found that they spend more time caring for their aging parents. Research from the American Sociological Association and the University of Michigan revealed that daughters spent about twice as much time each month caring for their elderly parents than sons did. Interestingly, the same research showed that women with brothers tended to take on even more responsibility for aging parents than women with sisters.

5 ways women can empower themselves in retirement planning

Even though women may feel less prepared for and more concerned about retirement, it’s never too late to improve their financial circumstances. Women of any age can empower themselves to become more confident regarding retirement. Here’s how:

  1. Start taking an active role in your finances – If you’ve traditionally left the role of financial manager to your husband, it’s time to turn that responsibility into a partnership. There’s no reason that women can’t become more involved and voice their concerns. Doing so will make you more aware of your financial status and alleviate some reservations about how much money you’ll need and other potential threats to your nest egg’s robustness.
  2. Broaden your financial literacy – Concepts like investing or taxes may sound foreign. However, they don’t have to be forever. Challenge yourself to learn something new about money – even if it’s once every month. This might be doing something as simple as reading a good book or checking out reputable resources online. A great place to start is our Senior Finance Guide.
  3. Pay attention to current events – Every day brings about new economic headlines for everything from inflation to interest rate changes. While it’s important to understand what these metrics mean and how they might eventually impact your nest egg, what’s even more critical is that you don’t make any rash decisions about your money. Retirement planning is a long game, and usually, those who win are the ones who play it safe, stick to the plan, and don’t get spooked by every new financial headline.
  4. Be realistic about your living situation. There’s no shame in needing help, especially as we age and can no longer do things ourselves. If you need a smaller, more manageable home or assistance from a home health aide, discuss it with those you trust and accept the help they offer. Retirement will be much more enjoyable when you don’t have to worry about how the house will be cared for or who will help you buy groceries.
  5. Involve others and ask for help when needed – You don’t have to make every decision independently. There are many people, both family and professional, that you can rely on for questions about everything from what to do with your money to how to equip your home for aging in place. The most challenging part is setting your pride aside and gathering the courage to ask for help.

Our data

For this report, Seniorliving.org conducted two internet-based polls. The first included 603 adults with at least one living parent or step-parent, and they answered questions about their parents’ retirement plans. The second poll included 548 adults who were at least 65 years old, and they answered questions about their own retirement preparedness. Both respondent pools were completely unique.