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Can Boomer Women Ever Afford to Retire?

Don't believe the doomsday headlines: A few trends make retirement an achievable goal for women who take the financial initiative

posted by Kerry Hannon, August 30, 2012 More by this author

woman looking down from high diving platform

Kerry Hannon has spent more than 25 years covering personal finance for Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today. She is the author of What's Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond; Great Jobs for Everyone 50+ and Suddenly Single: Money Skills for Divorcees and Widows. Her website is kerryhannon.com. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.


woman looking down from high diving platform
Jupiterimages | Brand X Pictures | Thinkstock
The surprising answer to the question posed by the headline is: You bet.
 
Contrary to conventional wisdom and the slew of recent articles suggesting that retirement for a great number of women (and many men) in this age group is virtually out of the question, boomer women actually stand a better chance of retiring well compared to previous generations — if they take the initiative.
 
Since this is National Retirement Planning Week — you hadn’t heard? — it’s an especially apt time to talk about the retirement savings challenges that women have to contend with. (Spearheading the week, which kicked off on April 9, is the Insured Retirement Institute, a trade group of firms selling annuities, along with a group of respected nonprofits including the Employee Benefit Research Institute, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College and the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement.)
 
Women Face Special Barriers
 
Now, there’s no question that women have to overcome certain obstacles on the retirement front.
 
As I recently blogged on Next Avenue, we generally have lower salaries and longer life spans than men. We also take more time away from the workforce to raise children or care for aging relatives, sacrificing retirement benefits during those years as a result.
 
The Good News About Retirement
 
That said, boomer women have worked and earned more than any previous generation, boosting their retirement savings, according to Boomers’ Retirement Income Prospects, a recent survey by the Urban Institute, a non-partisan think tank. Employed boomer women, earn 36 to 59 percent more per year on average in inflation-adjusted dollars (currently $30,000 to $35,100) than their pre-boomer counterparts, according to the study. The survey doesn't cite exactly how much the women have saved for retirement.
 
This survey also indicates that most boomer women are earning their own Social Security benefits — separate from their husbands’ — and will receive bigger Social Security benefits, adjusted for inflation, than women in the past.
 
Moreover, more of us will have our own pensions or retirement accounts, which will generally be worth more than those held by the generation before us.
 
What's behind this good news? Here are three factors:

  • The full retirement age for Social Security has been rising, from 65 to 67. So we’re working longer, which leads to larger Social Security checks.
  • There has been a shift away from traditional private-sector pension plans that reward early retirement. As a result, women are staying on the job longer than before, pulling in additional paychecks. Women who are now 47 to 56 are expected to work 40 years by the time they’re 70, on average, compared with just 30 years for the previous generation of women.
  • Wages are better. Employed women born between 1946 and 1955 earn 36 percent more per year in inflation–adjusted dollars than their pre-boomer counterparts; women 50 to 54 earn 59 percent more.
Women Remain Nervous About Their Retirement Prospects
 
Despite all this, we’re still walking on eggshells when it comes to our future retirement.
 
According to the recently released 2012 Retirement Confidence survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, women are less likely than men to feel very confident about retirement.

To me, this is a clear indicator that women know they’re lagging behind on retirement planning. Consider this a wake-up call to ramp it up.
 
The retirement-confidence survey also found that women are less likely than men to calculate how much they will need to have saved by the time they retire.
 
Come on women, do the math. This is isn’t rocket science. It’s your future. Focus.
 
My Money Tip of the Week
 
Studies have shown that people who calculate how much they’ll need to retire feel more optimistic about their ability to retire. And they manage to save more over time.
 
So run your numbers right now. Sure, you'll have to rely on rough estimates of how much you’ll need to live on, and how much you’ll have to save to retire when and how you want. But that will be good enough to put you on the right path.
 
I recommend trying an online calculator called The Ballpark E$timate from the Employee Benefit Research Institute's site, choosetosave.org. NextAvenue.org has a link to this calculator on our site. Many major mutual fund companies also have good retirement calculators on their sites.

And NextAvenue.org has a useful, easy tool called How Much to Save to Reach Your Financial Goals, which shows you the amount to put away each year to amass the cash you’ll want at retirement.