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5 Facts About Working Women and Retirement

Graphic with facts about women and retirement. Full text available at end of blog post.
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Ensuring women’s economic security through retirement can, and should, start early − and we have resources to help. Here are five facts to know about women and retirement:

1) Women live longer but often have less saved for retirement.

You probably knew women tend to live a little longer than men, but did you know they also tend to have less saved for retirement? On average, a woman retiring at age 65 can expect to live another 21 years, nearly three years longer than a man retiring at the same age. The median balance of women’s retirement accounts in 2016 was only $20,680 compared to $31,371 for men, as reported by Vanguard.

2) Many women aren’t saving for retirement at work.

Approximately 54 percent of working women are not participating in an employer-sponsored retirement plan either by choice (7 percent), ineligibility (9 percent), or because none was offered (37 percent), according to the National Institute for Retirement Security.

3) Mothers’ wages are increasingly important to the economic security of their families.

Almost 60 percent of all women over age 16 were in the workforce in 2015. For mothers with children under 18, the participation rate jumps to nearly 70 percent. Additionally, the number of mothers who are the sole or primary earner has increased significantly in the past few decades. Mothers provide at least half of the family’s income in 40.9 percent of households with children under age 18, up from 11.3 percent in 1960.

4) Mothers are nearly five times more likely to work part-time than fathers.

Despite strides in women’s earnings over the past decades, employed mothers are nearly five times more likely to work part-time than fathers, due in part to caregiving duties. Part-time workers are less likely to be covered by an employer-provided retirement savings plan, and may have less money to save on their own.

5) Women are at greater risk of experiencing poverty in retirement.

Women face a higher risk of poverty in retirement and are much more likely than men to depend on Social Security payments. For 27.4 percent of women age 65 and over, Social Security benefits comprise 90 percent of their total income. Forty-six percent of all elderly unmarried women (including widows) who received Social Security benefits in 2014 relied on it for 90 percent or more of their income.

Even if a woman can only set aside a small amount each pay period or month, those savings will compound over time. Women who do not have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan should know that anyone receiving compensation or married to someone receiving compensation can contribute to an IRA. In addition, self-employed women can start a Simplified Employee Pension Plan (SEP) or a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees of Small Employers (SIMPLE).

The time for working women to plan and save for the future is while they are working. Learn where to start by reading “Women and Retirement Savings,” a short publication from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration. Explore more relevant data in the issue brief, “Older Women Workers and Economic Security,” from the Department’s Women’s Bureau.

Tiffany Boiman is the Director of the Women’s Bureau’s Office of Policy and Programs. Mark Connor is the Director of EBSA’s Office of Outreach, Education, and Assistance.



Facts on women and retirement: Mothers today provide at least half of the income in 41 percent of households with children under 18, up from 11 percent in 1960 (source: BLS). But employed mothers are five times more likely to work part time-than fathers, so they're less likely to be covered by an employer-provided retirement plan, and may have less money to save on their own (source: BLS). Forty-six percent of elderly unmarried women and widows relied on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income in 2014 (source: Social Security Administration). Find retirement resources and more data at

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