Statistically, women over 50 face many financial challenges. In fact, the situation is so prevalent, there was a conference sponsored by the American Society on Aging (ASA) called “Fifty and Forgotten: A Focus on Wealth and Women in their Fifties.”
Kevin Prindiville, executive director of Justice in Aging (a nonprofit legal advocacy group fighting senior poverty) facilitated the conference where he reported that the average income for women aged 72 and older is around $13,000 less per year for women vs. men.
Poverty Rate in Aging Black Women
Prindiville explained at the seminar that, women of color, age 65 and older, are at the highest risk (of any other socioeconomic group) of living in poverty. In fact, older black women were found in a study to have the highest rate of poverty (21%), followed by Hispanic women (20%) and then Native American women (19%). Women in these ethnic groups suffer approximately 2 times the poverty rate of Caucasian women age 65 and older.
The Bag Lady Syndrome
For many women over 50, the “bag lady syndrome” (living homeless on the streets) is not very far-fetched, due to low income levels and lack of employer paid retirement plans. Other factors that increase the number of women at risk of poverty and homelessness after retirement is the fact that people are living longer. A longer life span means more money is needed to cover living expenses for the duration of one’s retirement years. Statistically, aging women have higher medical costs than men. Therefore, many retired women simply run out of savings money, and find themselves living at a poverty level.
Many women over 50 have taken time out from the workforce to raise their kids (and grandkids) or care for an aging parent. These breaks from employment may cause women to miss out on promotions and raises, as well as lowering the total amount they qualify for when it comes time to sign up for Social Security benefits.
The Wealth Gap in Aging Women
Jhumpa Bhattacharya, vice president of programs and strategy at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, explained that there is a wealth gap between older women and older men. “Wealth — what you own minus what you owe — is the key to ensuring economic security,” she said.
Men have 1.5 times the amount of wealth as women at age 50 to 64, says Bhattacharya. Higher debt load and lower wages result in a lower net worth for women. In addition, divorced or single women are less likely to have an accumulation of wealth from home equity—due to bad credit. Single or divorced older women are more likely to have bad credit because of bearing the responsibilities of raising children alone, coupled with lower incomes.
“For many women over 50, talking about money and seeking solutions to financial challenges is a taboo subject. But it’s a conversation that can’t be overlooked — the future repercussions are too bleak,” says Grandparents.com.