I've been thinking a lot in recent years about how to get my retirement ducks in a row, but I hate to admit it: I've been doing a lot more thinking than doing.
It turns out that this is a common mistake women investors make. While we generally outlive men and understand the importance of saving for retirement, we're not on par with men in terms of saving for our golden years.
This gap - which I'm calling the retirement gender-gap - is evident in just released findings of BlackRock's first-ever Global Investor Pulse Survey, a survey of 17,500 respondents globally, including 4,000 Americans.
According to the survey results, retirement saving is a key differentiator between women and men globally, including here in the United States. For instance, men and women in the United States are aligned in prioritizing retirement: 47% of men and 46% of women name "funding a comfortable retirement" as a currently important financial priority. Yet just 53% of women in the United States say they have begun to save for their retirement, compared with 62% of men. So what's behind this gap? Three interrelated factors may be at play.
Women tend to be less confident than men. These confidence issues may be keeping women back when it comes to saving for retirement. As my colleague Nelli Oster has pointed out so eloquently in her Men vs. Women series, behavioral finance researchers have found that women tend to be much less confident than men when it comes to investing. Such investing insecurity can cause investment decision inertia and may be holding women back from making retirement moves. For example, as women tend to be less confident and more cautious investors than men, they typically do more research, and take more time, before implementing an investment strategy.
Findings from the BlackRock survey back this up. According to survey results, while 55% of American men affirm that they understand how much they need to save for retirement, only 45% of American women do. Meanwhile, only 41% of U.S. women identify themselves as knowledgeable about saving and investing, compared with 57% of U.S. men.
Women tend to be more risk averse than men. Possibly because they're less confident in their investing abilities, women tend to be much cautious investors than men. Their wary stance toward taking risk is evident in these survey stats: 55% of women globally (compared with 47% of men) agree that "I am not willing to take any risks with my money," and just 22% of women globally (compared with 34% of men) say they are willing to take on higher risks to achieve higher rewards. This greater risk aversion could be what's keeping women from building up their retirement accounts.
Other financial worries may be trumping retirement. Because women typically are more risk averse, they tend to be more prone to focus on conservative money moves like paying off debt. In fact, according Global Investor Pulse Survey results, women are more likely than men to cite the following as priorities: paying off the mortgage on their main home, paying off other debts, saving a deposit for a new home, and financing their children's education. This may be because women today frequently are the decision makers about household finances, but it may also be because many women fear ending up as bag ladies (i.e. they're suffering from "the bag-lady syndrome"). In other words, women may be focusing more on these other financial issues than on their retirement.
To be sure, men have their fair share of issues too. To name one, men's tendency toward overconfidence in their investment skills can lead to excessive trading and underperformance. Still, when it comes to saving for retirement, men do seem to be a step ahead.
So, regardless of what's behind this retirement gender gap, it's a gap that all women, me included, should try to overcome. By not beginning to save for retirement now, women risk falling short of their retirement goals and losing out on the benefits of good old compound interest.
Plus, retirement today is not like it was in the past - saving for retirement is more in your own power than ever before. So, women, let's try to be a little more confident and a little less risk averse when it comes to saving for our future. As confidence is rooted in knowledge, the more knowledge you gain, the more confident you can be. The good news is that BlackRock is here to help, offering a host of retirement resources online that can help you get started doing your part to close the retirement gender gap. Women, let's lean in and learn.
Sue Thompson, CIMA, Managing Director, is Head of the Registered Investment Advisor Group, overseeing the firm's iShares and 529 sales efforts with registered investment advisors, family offices and asset managers. Sue is a regular contributor to The Blog. You can find more of her posts here.