Women’s issues are getting a lot of well-deserved attention lately, and I’m not just talking about the #MeToo movement. While the courageous women of #MeToo have shined a much-needed spotlight on the problem of sexual harassment and assault, women face other vital issues that are too often ignored—sometimes by women themselves.
One of the most pressing needs is for married women to become more involved in the details of their financial lives. Two compelling demographic trends press this issue. The first is that women generally outlive men. The second is the increasing rate of divorce for couples over 50.
Most of us probably already know that women generally live longer than men. No surprise there. However, I did find it surprising that the median age of widowhood is only 59 years old. What’s more, nearly 1 million U.S. women are widowed every year, and, on average, their annual income decreases by 37% after their spouse dies.
I was also surprised that the divorce rate among U.S. adults ages 50 and over has doubled since the 1990s and now accounts for 1 in every 4 divorces. Even among those in long-term marriages (marriages lasting 30 years or more), the rate of divorce is rising. 69% of divorces are initiated by women.
The implications of these trends are hard to ignore. The actuaries at the Social Security Administration tell us that a 59 year-old woman is expected to live to age 84. Digging a little deeper, we discover that there is a 25 percent chance that a 59 year-old woman will live to age 92 or older. In other words, a woman widowed or divorced in her late-50s, unless she remarries, will likely spend more than three decades being solely responsible for her financial well-being. This begs the question: how prepared are women for this possibility?
A recent report by our friends at UBS looked at this question in detail. The authors surveyed 599 women in the fall of 2017 who had either been widowed or divorced within the last five years. They also surveyed 1,474 married couples.
Most of the divorced or widowed women in the study reported that they had been involved in some financial decisions while they were married, including handling cash flow and paying bills. However, most agreed it wasn’t enough. Nearly 60 percent said they wished they had been more involved in long-term decisions and almost as many said they discovered financial “surprises” such as hidden debt or insufficient savings after divorce or their spouse’s death. 97 percent of women interviewed advised women to educate themselves about finances, while 98 percent encouraged married women to take a more active role in family finances.
Getting more involved may require changing some deeply entrenched ways of thinking. Of the women surveyed, 66 percent said they are not interested in investing or believe that investing is too complicated. Both sexes think men know more about investing and women tend to defer to men because “men are more confident in making major financial decisions.” (Personally, I find that a little ironic given that men generally are notoriously overconfident in so many other areas of life.) “Women,” the authors conclude, “consistently underestimate their own abilities while overstating what is required to be financially involved. In reality, taking an active role in household finances does not mean become an expert—it simply means become more involved and aware.”
So how can women get more involved? Working through the financial planning process with a trusted advisor is a great place to start. A well-crafted financial plan will require a lot of you in terms of gathering information and defining goals. It will also help you formulate vital questions and get the needed answers.
Steven C. Merrell MBA, CFP®, AIF® is a Partner at Monterey Private Wealth, Inc., a Wealth Management Firm in Monterey. He welcomes questions that you may have concerning investments, taxes, retirement, or estate planning. Send your questions to: Steve Merrell, 2340 Garden Road Suite z202, Monterey, CA 93940 or email them to: firstname.lastname@example.org