A Different Path for Women

By Tammy Flanagan

January 17, 2014

Last week I attended a lecture that gave me newfound appreciation for the women who have paved the way for those in the workforce today, and made me think about the special needs of women in planning for retirement. The lecture was held at the site of the former District of Columbia’s Correctional Complex in Lorton, Va. After closing its doors to prisoners in 2002, this facility has been transformed by the Lorton Arts Foundation into an arts and education center. The lecture was the first in a series called “American Women: The Long and Winding Road.”

I learned that 72 members of the National Women’s Party were imprisoned at Lorton in the early 1900s for demonstrating in favor of women’s right to vote, before passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution finally granted them that right. I realized how much has changed for women in the United States in the last century. It’s easy to take for granted that women can go to college, get good jobs, and become financially independent through meaningful and productive work. But it hasn’t been true for that long. And even today, there is more work to be done on women’s issues. Among other things, that means that some retirement planning issues women face today can be different than the issues faced by most men.

The Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, which provides resources to help prepare women for their financial future, has outlined five challenges for women:

I wondered if this is true women in the federal government. I checked this Office of Personnel Management report and found the following information regarding women in the federal workforce:

According to Pew Research Social and Demographic Trends, in 2013 mothers were the sole or primary provider in 40 percent of households with children. That’s compared to 11 percent in 1960. But here’s what’s interesting: The total family income is higher when the mother, not the father, is the primary breadwinner. In 2011, the median family income was nearly $80,000 for couples in which the wife was the primary breadwinner, about $2,000 more than it was for couples in which husband was the primary breadwinner -- and $10,000 more than for couples in which spouses’ income was the same.

You might think this would allow women to plan for their retirement as well or better than men. But for a variety of other reasons, that’s often not the case:

Among parents, women are more likely than men to experience career interruptions to attend to family-related matters. More than 40 percent of mothers have reduced their work hours, according to Pew Research, compared to 28 percent of fathers. More than a quarter of women, compared to 10 percent of men, have quit their jobs. Almost 40 percent of women, compared to 24 percent of men, have taken a significant amount of time off.

More than half of working women say being a working parent has made it more difficult to advance in their career, compared to 16 percent of working fathers.

Women are less likely than men to ask for raises or aspire to top management jobs. For women aged 49-67, only 21 percent say they would like to be a top manager someday, compared with 32 percent of men in the same age group. The gap narrows among younger workers: 61 percent of women aged 18-32 aspire to management, compared to 70 percent of men.


When it comes to the unique issues women face in retirement planning, here are some resources:

(Image via agsandrew/Shutterstock.com)

By Tammy Flanagan

January 17, 2014