Women and Retirement: Insight Into the Gender Divide

By Pam O’Brien · February 29, 2024 · 9 minute read

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Women and Retirement: Insight Into the Gender Divide

Retirement is supposed to be a time for enjoying life after decades of work. Yet many women are in a financially precarious situation when it comes to the so-called “golden years.” In a 2023 SoFi survey, 57% of women said they aren’t saving for retirement. Similarly, 50% have no personal retirement savings according to a 2022 Census Bureau Report.

Given that women now outlive men by approximately six years, according to a recent study in JAMA, they need to save for an even longer retirement than their male counterparts. That makes the fact that they have fewer funds earmarked for retirement even more troubling.

Why aren’t women saving for the future? And how can they start financially preparing for retirement? Read on to learn about the retirement gender divide, why it exists, and some possible solutions for overcoming it.

A Look at Retirement Trends for Women and Men

There has long been a disparity in retirement savings for men and women. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as women get older, their chances of living in poverty increase, a trend that has persisted for at least 50 years, when such data collection started.

Consider the current retirement savings divide between women and men today, as reported by respondents to the SoFi 2023 Ambitions Survey:

Retirement Savings for Women and Men in US

According to the survey of Americans ages 18 to 75, men have a median retirement savings that’s about $40,000 to $60,000 higher than women’s savings. In addition, 11% more women than men aren’t saving for retirement, and likewise 11% more women don’t know how much is in their retirement savings. In fact, 33% of women have less than $5,000 in retirement savings, the survey found.



Median Retirement Savings $70,001-$80,000 $20,001-$30,000
% Not Saving for Retirement 46% 57%
% Who Don’t Know What Their Retirement Savings Is 45% 56%
*Source: SoFi Ambition Survey, 2023

This savings disparity typically begins early in adult life and accumulates over time. Employment, marriage, and motherhood all play a role.

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How Marriage and Children Impact Retirement

Women aged 55 to 66 who have been married once tend to have more retirement savings than women who have never been married, or those who have been married two or more times. According to a recent income survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, close to 37% of women married once have no retirement savings, compared to 41% of women married two or more times and 55% who never married.

Women, Marriage and Retirement Savings*

Women Married Once

Women Married Two or More Times Women Who Never Married
36.7% have no retirement savings 40.9% have no retirement savings 54.5% have no retirement savings
11.8% have $1 to $24,999 11.8% have $1 to $24,999 11.7% have $1 to $24,999
14.9% have $25,000 to $99,999 13.6% have $25,000 to $99,999 13.6% have $25,000 to $99,999
36.6% have $100,000 or more 33.7% have $100,000 or more 20.2% have $100,000 or more
*Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Survey of Income and Program Participation

In a divorce, some couples may be required to split their retirement savings or one may need to transfer some of their retirement funds to the other, which could be one of the reasons why the percentage of those without retirement savings is lower among women married two or more times than those who never married.

Motherhood and Money

When women have children, they often take time off from the workforce and/or may work part-time, which can have an impact on their earnings. According to an analysis by the Pew Research Center, among people 35 to 44, 94% of fathers are active in the workforce while 75% of mothers are.

Motherhood is also a time when the wage gap comes into play. In 2022, mothers 25 to 34 earned 85% of what fathers the same age did, while women without children at home earned 97% of what fathers earned, the Pew analysis found. The less money women make, the less they have to save for retirement.

Earnings for Mothers 25-34

85% of what fathers earned
Earnings for Women 25-34 Without Children at Home 97% of what fathers earned
*Source: Pew Research Center, 2023

Earning less also affects the Social Security benefits women get in retirement. While men got $1,838 a month on average in Social Security in 2022, women received on average $1,484, according to the Social Security Administration.

Retirement Is a Top Priority for Women and a Bigger Concern

While saving for retirement is the top goal for women, they are also focused on, and perhaps feeling stress about, paying off credit card and student loan debt, according to the SoFi Ambitions Survey.

Overall, women tend to perceive financial goals and success quite differently than men do. Two-thirds of female survey respondents said their marker of success is being able to feed their families. By comparison, one-third of men said their marker of success is being seen as successful, while another one-third say it’s reaching a certain income bracket.

That divergence may help explain why men are far more likely than women to consider investing a top financial goal, which could help them build retirement savings. For women, investing is at the bottom of the list of their financial priorities, perhaps out of necessity.

Women’s Financial Goals vs. Men’s Financial Goals

Women’s Financial Goals

Men’s Financial Goals
Saving for retirement: 45%
Paying down credit card debt: 41%
Paying down student loans: 39%
Continue Investing: 33%
Continue Investing: 52%
Saving for retirement: 49%
Paying down credit card debt: 33%
Paying down student loans: 27%
*Source: SoFi Ambition Survey, 2023

Retirement is women’s number-one goal and it’s also one of their greatest worries. One in five female respondents to SoFi’s survey said they may not be able to retire.

Those Who Worry They Won’t Be Able to Retire


20% 15%
*Source: SoFi Ambition Survey, 2023

That means women are 33% more likely than men to believe that retirement may not happen for them.

Even if they can retire, there is no guarantee women’s savings will cover their expenses. In fact, women are approximately 10% more likely than men to say they are concerned about outliving their assets and having enough savings, according to a report from McKinsey Insights.

Recommended: When Can I Retire?

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Why Are Women Facing a Retirement Gap?

In addition to the financial impact of marriage, motherhood, and lower earnings, women also experience some additional barriers to retirement saving.

For instance, a report from the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center found that women tend to score lower in financial literacy than men do. And women with lower financial literacy are less likely to save and plan for retirement, according to the research.

Women also lack confidence when it comes to investing. Only 33% see themselves as investors, according to a 2022 SoFi Women and Investing Insights analysis, and 71% of their assets are in cash, rather than in investments or a retirement account, where their funds might have the potential to grow.

Minding and Mending the Gap

So how can women and society at large move forward and start closing the retirement gap?

The first step is for everyone, across all genders and ages, to build confidence in their financial skills by learning about money, saving, and investing. Knowledge helps create strength and belief in oneself, and it’s never too early or too late to start learning.

There are numerous good resources on retirement planning, to help individuals determine how much they may need to save for retirement and strategies that could help them get there. They can also sign up for financial classes and courses, and they might even want to consult a financial advisor.

At work, employees can participate in their employer’s 401(k) plan or any other retirement savings plan offered. Because money is automatically deducted from their paychecks and placed in their 401(k) account, saving may be easier to accomplish.

💡 Quick Tip: Did you know that a traditional Individual Retirement Account, or IRA, is a tax-deferred account? That means you don’t pay taxes on the money you put in it (up to an annual limit) or the gains you earn, until you retire and start making withdrawals.

How to Start Saving for Retirement

No matter what your age, the time to kick off your retirement savings is now. Here’s how to begin.

Figure out your retirement budget.

To determine the amount you’ll need for retirement, think about what you want your life after work to look like. Do you want to move to a smaller, less expensive home? Do you hope to travel as much as possible? Having a clear picture of your goals can help you calculate how much you might need.

You can also consider the 4% rule, which suggests withdrawing 4% of your retirement savings each year of retirement so that you don’t outlive your savings. That could give you a ballpark to aim for.

Cut back on current expenses.

Take an honest look at what you’re spending right now on everything from rent or your mortgage to car payments, groceries, clothing, and entertainment. Find things to cut or trim — for example, do you really need three streaming services? — and put that money into your retirement savings instead.

Some savvy belt tightening now could help give you a more financially secure future.

Contribute as much as you can to your 401(k).

If you can max out your 401(k), go for it. You’re allowed (per IRS rules) to contribute up to $23,000 in 2024. If that much isn’t possible, contribute at least enough to get your employer’s matching contribution. That’s essentially “free money” that can help build your retirement savings.

Consider opening an IRA.

If you’ve contributed the max to your workplace retirement plan, a traditional or Roth IRA could help you save even more for retirement. You can contribute up to $7,000 in an IRA for 2024, or $8,000 if you’re 50 or older. IRAs offer certain tax advantages that may help you save money as well by lowering your taxable income the year you contribute (traditional IRA), or allowing you to withdraw your money tax-free in retirement (Roth IRA).

Diversify your portfolio.

Whatever type of retirement account you have, including a brokerage account, diversifying your portfolio — which means investing your money across a variety of different asset classes — may help mitigate (though not eliminate) risk, rather than concentrating your funds all in one area.

Just make sure that the way you allocate your assets matches your retirement goals and your risk tolerance.

The Takeaway

Women are far behind men when it comes to retirement savings, due to a number of factors, including earning lower wages, and motherhood, which can mean time away from work, costing them in lost earnings. There’s also an emotional component involved: Women are less confident about investing overall.

However, building financial strength, and educating themselves about retirement planning is a good way for women to start saving for their future. Cutting expenses and directing that money into savings instead, participating in their workplace retirement plan, and opening an IRA or investment account are some of the ways women can take charge of their finances and help position themselves for a happy and secure retirement.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

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Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.

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