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Successful Aging: Why are my female friends more worried about longterm financial security?

Q. I and several of my women friends are retired and have some financial security. Yet there is this fear of running out of funds. One woman who has significant financial investments said she is afraid of becoming a bag lady. Most of us are single. Even with adequate resources, there is a feeling of being financially vulnerable and insecure. Can you explain this? E.R.

Dear E.R.

Sometimes logic and emotions are not in sync. The case you describe makes sense. Let’s begin with some recent data as reported by Justice in Aging, a national non-profit legal advocacy organization that fights senior poverty through law. When we talk about age and poverty, we essentially are talking about women.

Here are some facts:

Among the 7.1 million older adults living in poverty, nearly two out of three are women.

Comparing genders, 16 percent are women; 12 percent are men.

Poverty levels are higher for unmarried older women compared to those who are married.

Among men and women over 65 who receive Social Security benefits, 43 percent of single recipients and 21 percent of married recipients depend on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income, accordin to the Social Security Administration.

Why the gender disparity? Part of that answer is simple: income disparity. Women are paid 80 cents for every dollar a man is paid. Consequently, women earn less income. Caregiving plays a role. About two-thirds of caregivers are women and who likely take time off from work, which again means less income. In fact, six in ten report making changes in their employment because of caregiving. Struggling to make ends meet can make saving for retirement a big challenge. Furthermore, women have more healthcare expenses, in part, because they live longer than men.

All of these have a negative impact on women’ earnings and easily translate into less retirement savings, pension income, investments and Social Security benefits.

Aside from these realities, women’s attitudes or habitual ways of thinking about money can create discomfort in their feeling about their own financial security. My friends have said, “Think about the what if’s – the stock market crashes, the country goes into a depression, my investments decline in value – and there is no one to bail me out.”

Attitudes can be influenced by parents. For first-generation Americans, many of us were told to never pay interest charges. The mantra was — “If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.” That even is sound advice today. We also were told, “Never spend the principle of your savings or investments,” and “Buy, never rent.” Add to that list, “Avoid debt,” particularly during one’s retirement years.

Let’s assume one cannot live up to these expectations. Does that mean failure? Although one’s parents may be deceased, those small voices can continue to resound in our heads.

Yet, life happens; emergencies occur for ourselves, families and friends. There are unexpected health costs, divorces, adult children who become unemployed or grandchildren needing special services.

Money is a personal topic and often not easy to discuss. A colleague, Syble Solomon, developed a set of cards that provides an easy way to talk about money and to determine one’s “money personality” and spending habits. The cards have been used by individuals, couples, in groups and in classes. See

Note: there is no substitute for computing one’s retirement expenses with actual income; it’s called financial planning that requires making changes so income and expenses in retirement at least match.

So, what to do? Consider having a conversation with your women friends and address a few issues and questions.

Describe your attitude toward money.

What has influenced your attitude?

What is your greatest fear?

Assess the reality.

Do you have a financial plan that you understand?

Describe concrete steps you can take to increase the security of your retirement future and increase your comfort level.

All woman agreed that knowing when the final exit would occur would help in planning.

Thank you, E.R., for your important question. Best wishes for a productive and self-assuring conversation with your women friends so you can adjust your emotions to your financial reality, make the necessary changes – and feel a lot better.

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