Despite gains in education, employment and earnings in recent decades, American women still face a rockier road to secure retirement than men. Yet they live longer and are more apt to encounter illness, disability and the eventual need for expensive long-term care.
Economists attribute much of the retirement gender gap to “the motherhood penalty.” Women who raise children have fewer and lower-paid years in the work force than men or childless women, and “they never completely make up for the deficits,” said Matthew Rutledge, a research fellow at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
Divorces in late middle age may improve women’s emotional well-being — they initiate them more often than men — but frequently devastate their financial health.
Marriage combines incomes, reduces living costs and works “to smooth out the fluctuations, the job losses, the periods of disability, the years you took off to care for an elderly parent,” Dr. Rutledge said. “It’s almost like getting an insurance policy.”
Losing that insurance takes a financial toll on women at any age, but after 50 “there’s less time to recoup,” Dr. I-Fen Lin, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, explained. “It’s hard to get back into the labor force, if you’re not working. And you don’t have as many years left to work and recover.” Moreover, older working women face both age and gender discrimination.
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