Today is International Women’s Day and around the world, people will celebrate the accomplishments of women. But today is also a day to reflect on the challenges women still face. One major challenge facing women in the United States is retirement security.
Shortchanged in Retirement, a new report by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), finds that women are at a much greater risk of being in poverty in retirement than men. Specifically, the report indicates that women are 80 percent more likely to be in poverty at age 65. And this disparity continues to increase as women get older.
There are a number of causes for this lack of retirement security. For one, women tend to live longer than men, so their retirement savings must last longer. However, women are likely to have less retirement savings than men. Partly, this is because women earn less than men during their working years and that pay gap follows women into retirement. Furthermore, women are harmed by eligibility rules for workplace retirement plans. If a woman is fortunate enough to work for an employer that offers a retirement plan- many Americans aren’t- she still may not be eligible to participate because women are more likely to work part-time or to leave the workforce to care for a child or sick family member. These circumstances limit women’s ability to accumulate retirement savings during their working years.
What can be done? The researchers at NIRS have some suggestions. First, is to protect Social Security, which is the most important source of retirement security for women. Another is to increase eligibility for part-time workers to participate in employer-based retirement savings plans. Finally, expanding defined benefit pensions would increase retirement security for women.
The NIRS report finds that women who work in fields like education or healthcare, where defined benefit pensions are more common, have more retirement income and lower rates of poverty than women in other fields. This is not surprising since defined benefit pensions provide more retirement security than defined contribution 401(k)-style plans. Today, on International Women’s Day, we urge state lawmakers around the nation to protect defined benefit pensions and the dignified retirement they provide.