Money & Policy

Do Men or Women Worry More About Retirement?

Don't be fooled by the cultural stereotypes about fears of aging

(This article previously appeared on MarketWatch.)

If you had to guess, who would you say is more worried about aging — men or women?

Though cultural stereotypes may suggest otherwise, the answer is men, and by a wide margin.
According to a new survey by Financial Engines, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company that manages retirement accounts, of 552 adults ages 55 and older, only 29 percent of women say anxieties about getting older have sparked worries about retirement. In contrast, 40 percent of men report that aging is a major worry. (The survey included retirees and the currently employed alike: 51 percent of the men and 55 percent of the women surveyed identified themselves as retired.)
The Gender Gap on Aging

Turns out, the gender gap on aging is part of a pattern: When it comes to the changes and challenges associated with retirement, men appear to be the more stressed sex, according to the recently-released survey.

(MORE: What to Do About the Coming Retirement Crisis)

For example, while 49 percent of men are anxious about rising health-care costs, only 44 percent of women say the same. Close to one-third of men worry about losing a spouse prematurely, versus just 24 percent of women. And among men, 31 percent fret about adapting to a new routine, while 25 percent worry about getting bored in retirement — concerns only 20 percent of women share.
Overall, 51 percent of women say they are excited about retirement, versus just 41 percent of men, the survey found.
Women Are More Optimistic About Retirement Than Men
“Compared to men, women are optimistic about retirement,” says Kelly O’Donnell, an executive vice president at Financial Engines. Her interpretation of the results? “Women today are playing many roles. They are working, raising kids, and helping out as caregivers to aging parents — and they are looking forward to retirement as ‘me time,’” says O’Donnell.

(MORE: Retirement Planning: U.S. Women Vs. the World)

That is reflected in what women say they want to do in retirement. A greater percentage of women say they want to spend more time with friends and family, travel, volunteer, sleep, and simply “do nothing.” In contrast, men are more likely to say they want to pursue a hobby, reconnect with their spouse, and spend their kids’ inheritances.
What Women Are More Worried About

That’s not to say that women have no worries about life in retirement. By a slightly higher margin (43 percent vs. 41 percent), women worry about running out of money in old age. And 9 percent say they worry about getting sick of their spouses, versus 7 percent of men.

Are women right to be optimistic about retirement? After all, due in part to the fact that women earn lower wages and take more time out of the workforce to care for children and aging parents, the median 401(k) balance for men ages 60 and older is $84,000 — or almost double the $43,000 women in the same age group have saved, according to a Financial Engines analysis of account holders in its client base.

Moreover, a 65-year-old woman can expect to live two years longer than her male counterpart, to 86.6, on average, according to data from the Social Security Administration.

(MORE: How the Gender Pay Gap Hurts Women in Retirement)

How Women Should Plan

What should women do to plan for greater longevity?

One way to boost a survivor’s lifelong income is for the higher earner to delay claiming Social Security. While you can start these benefits any time between ages 62 and 70, the longer you wait, the higher your monthly payment will be. That could make a big difference for a surviving spouse, who could be eligible to collect your full benefit when you die.

Anne Tergesen is a staff reporter at The Wall Street Journal, covering retirement finances and planning.

By Anne Tergesen
Anne Tergesen is a writer for MarketWatch.com, specializing in retirement.@annetergesen

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