Financial gap between women, men narrowing

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The financial wellness gap between women and men is still wide, but it is narrowing, according to the latest research from Financial Finesse.

The widest differences are in cash management, managing debt and investing, says Cynthia Meyer, a financial planner with Financial Finesse. The narrowest differences are in life insurance, estate planning and college planning.

In its Gender Gap in Financial Wellness Research report, Financial Finesse points out that women are making positive changes to their finances and closing the gap with men across the generations.

“The Gender Gap in Financial Wellness has closed to 8.9 percentage points; a 37% improvement since 2012,” according to the research. “While the gap is narrowing, part of the closure is due to men’s backsliding, a troubling trend that shouldn’t get lost in the efforts to increase women’s financial wellness.”

Since 2012, men have dropped four percentage points in financial wellness, while women have gained more than one percentage point.

The report looked at the gaps between the genders as it pertains to investing, money management and savings. It also broke out the data by generation. As always, millennials have the most time to make a difference in their future retirement savings.

Financial Finesse compared the amount a typical 25-year-old male needs to save for retirement to the amount a typical 25-year-old female needs to put away. The results are eye-opening. Because women live longer and are more likely to take breaks from their careers to take care of children or elderly parents, the amount women have to save can look quite insurmountable.

According to the study, a man needs $1.56 million for a secure retirement, while a woman who doesn’t take any career break, needs to save $1.7 million. Women who take an early career break need to save $1.9 million. Those who take a mid-career break need to save $1.87 million; and those who take a late career break need to save $1.8 million.

So what does that mean in terms of savings rates? According to Financial Finesse, the typical 25-year-old man must save 11.1% of his pay, on top of a 3% employer match, to ensure a secure retirement. A woman who doesn’t take any career breaks must save 12.6%. If the woman takes an early career break, she will need to set aside 25% of pay to make up the difference.

“To help minimize the gap through career breaks, employers should provide ongoing financial mentorship. Catch employees before they take a career break. Get them set up in a position where the break won’t hurt them financially,” says Linda Robertson, director of planner operations for Financial Finesse. That means making sure they have an emergency fund and their debt under control.

Many employers have risen to the challenge by offering financial wellness programs that target women in particular. The programs provide education on retirement preparedness, college funding and budgeting, she said. Employers should “encourage employees to increase their financial knowledge but also encourage behavioral change through what they are learning through financial education,” Robertson adds.

Financial Finesse encourages companies to get spouses involved in financial coaching and planning so couples are working together as a team to make sure their financial goals are being tracked and to make up for any career breaks.

Financial Finesse has found that the more interactions an employee has with a workforce financial wellness program, the more they increase their deferral rates into the company’s tax-deferred retirement plan.

The average non-user of a financial wellness program defers an average of 6.23%.

“That captures the employer match, but is not enough to get to an adequate nest egg, assuming wage parity and no career breaks,” says Meyer. That goes for both men and women.

People who participate in Financial Finesse’s financial wellness program in their workplace and take at least five small action steps, like speaking to someone on the help line or trying to lower their debt, defer an average of 9.32%, Meyer says.

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