Half of women report struggles and uncertainty about retirement

LONDON: Two new surveys of adult women suggest that many are struggling financially, making it exceedingly difficult to plan for a secure retirement.

Commissioned by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER), the surveys reveal that just over half (51%) of American women ages 25 and older say they do not consider themselves financially secure, with more than three-quarters (77%) of low-income women saying the same.

In addition, more than half (51%) of women indicate that they do not have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, the organizations reveal in What Women Say: Insights and Policy Solutions for Lifelong Financial Security. The two online surveys—conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Lake Research Partners—asked women what they think about their financial situation now and how they feel about their future retirement. The surveys also explored women’s support for 13 potential policy solutions.

Additional Findings

In conducting the surveys, the researchers observe that women were candid about their fears and concerns when it comes to their financial security. Additional findings show the following:

  • The top overall concerns are the cost of housing, potential cuts to Social Security and Medicare, not having enough savings to retire, and outliving savings in retirement.
  • Three in four low-income women by ethnicity reported having no emergency savings.
  • Nearly two-thirds of low-income women said they are not confident that they have the information they need to be able to plan and save for retirement.
  • Most women said they are “worried” and “uncertain” when thinking about retirement, and a third of low-income women indicated they are “terrified.”

In addition, a plurality (40% white, 30% Black and 36% Hispanic) of low-income women ages 25 or older believe their retirement income or savings will be insufficient to even pay their monthly bills and obligations.

“When asked why they do not feel financially secure, women told us they do not have enough savings, inflation has caused a lot of pain to their wallets, and they have debt,” stated Bill McInturff, Partner at Public Opinion Strategies, in releasing the findings. “Living paycheck to paycheck means that if an emergency were to occur, they would be wiped out financially.”

Policy Solutions

The survey also asked women to express their level of support for 13 potential policy solutions that could help. Here, the findings reveal that large majorities (90%) of women respondents supported eight of the solutions (note also that these findings were fairly consistent across party affiliations).

These include:

  • Creating a new government-provided retirement plan that would allow workers whose employers do not currently provide a retirement plan to set-aside their savings tax-free until they retire and start withdrawing funds from the account (91% total support)
  • Making the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security benefits “more accurately” reflect the cost of housing and health care (94% total support)
  • Providing a tax break to family caregivers to help cover out-of-pocket costs of providing care to a seriously ill, disabled or the elderly (94% total support)
  • Raising the minimum Social Security benefit to above the federal poverty level (92% total support)
    Improving access to the Supplemental Social Security Income program, which provides monthly benefits to people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 and older (92% total support)
  • Providing free educational programs to middle-aged and older adults on how to save for retirement and make the most of their Social Security benefits (91% total support)

“It’s sobering to see such widespread financial insecurity among women in America,” said NCOA President and CEO Ramsey Alwin. “We know that a woman’s ability to age well starts early—not just when she retires. If women of all ages are finding it difficult to stay afloat today, their chances of aging with security are dim.”

The first survey was conducted Feb. 10-21, 2023, among women ages 25 and older and collected 1,000 responses. The second was conducted March 27-April 5, 2023, among low-income women ages 25 and older and collected at least 200 responses each from white, Black and Hispanic women. “Low-income” was defined as an individual with $25,000 in income per year ($50,000 for two or more people in a household) and retirement savings of $5,000 or less.