If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, as a 1992 best-seller once surmised, then they’re also often worlds apart when it comes to planning for retirement.

A recent OneAmerica survey of 5,424 women and 5,331 men raises the prospect that employee communications could be more effective when customized around these stark differences. It’s a strategy that producers might want to pursue with their employer clients, the researchers say.

Marsha Whitehead, OneAmerica’s VP of marketing for retirement services, suggests that employee education programs be tailored to bridge differences between male and female plan participants.

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An employer match was ranked the most valued retirement plan feature and all participants realize the importance of avoiding loans or hardship withdrawals, regardless of their gender. But any similarities from OneAmerica’s second poll in three years on the role gender plays in retirement readiness essentially end there.

Women, who tend to outlive men, were found to be less engaged in the topic and, therefore, were more vulnerable to financial challenges later in life. For example, 69% of men vs. 55% of women said they thought about retirement at least on a monthly basis, while 53% of men monitor their retirement plan compared to 36% of women.

Men also are more likely to discuss the topic with colleagues (29%) than women (22%) or reference a news story about retirement (16% vs. 11% of women). In addition, 54% of men and 48% of women said weighing their financial status against goals is important. Perhaps not surprisingly, men also believe they have a significantly higher level of knowledge than women. The finding is based on self-rated answers across 10 personal finance and retirement topics.


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“Women tend not to be as boastful as men,” notes Kara Clark, OneAmerica’s marketing director.

The key takeaway: knowing one’s audience. It’s important to “understand not only what demographic factors are at play in terms of age and gender, but also what works for those employees at that specific workplace,” says Clark. “You have to make it personal for them. You have to help them understand the role that they play in their own retirement security. You have to deliver that information in ways that are going to resonate with women.”

What exactly does that look like? Clark says group meetings are particularly effective, as well as the influence of family and friends on their decision making. She notes that opening employee meetings about retirement planning to spouses or other partners can have a positive impact. It also helps for women to “understand what other women are thinking and what their peers are doing,” she adds.

The way information is conveyed it also critical, particularly if such a dry subject can be made interesting. For example, Clark references humorous presentations to employee populations by a former comedian and financial planner named Peter Dunn, who has appeared on Good Morning America and written op-eds for USA Today.

“These topics can be overwhelming and intimidating for a lot of people, and he just breaks them down in a way that is so manageable and so approachable for so many people,” says Clark.

Brokers and advisers also can play an important role in helping plan sponsors understand just how significant they are in this equation, according to Clark. “Most employees, particularly younger ones, are very receptive and open to communication from plan sponsors about retirement plans and financial wellness,” she explains.

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