December 28, 2006


Old story: Women may have it worse: Divorce and lost earning time could put living standards in a free fall late in life. (Jonathan Peterson, December 28, , LA Times)

Ellen Tucker Emerson cut short her nursing career to help raise her children, but money was never a worry. Her husband made a good living as a lawyer, and the family didn't miss her income.

"We traveled where we wanted," she said. "He bought me furs and jewelry. We stayed at the best hotels."

Then the marriage fell apart. Now 51, Tucker Emerson scrambles to pay the bills and wonders how she will get by in retirement.

"Maybe I'll be that old lady on the cruise ship working as a singer, and I'll supplement my income working in a nursing home," said Tucker Emerson, who lives on the coast of Maine. She added, "We need to teach our daughters that you have to take care of yourself for the future."

Like millions of other upwardly mobile women of the baby boom generation, Tucker Emerson faces the danger that retirement will bring a sharp downhill slide in lifestyle. Many of these women could suffer a greater decline in living standards in later life than their mothers did.

To a degree, the retirement security of women is jeopardized by the same trends affecting men, such as cutbacks in corporate pensions. But experts say the threat to women is amplified by a confluence of factors, including:

• Higher overall rates of divorce and singlehood. Record numbers of women are heading toward later life without the backup of a partner's savings and income. Unmarried, older women have higher poverty rates than their male counterparts and much higher poverty rates than married women, government data show.

• Interrupted working years. Although baby boom women generally have more education and work skills than their mothers, many quit jobs or work part time to care for children or ailing relatives. Such efforts may be cherished by family members, but they slash retirement benefits.

• Long lives. At age 65, women are expected to live an average of three years longer than men. This greater longevity magnifies several risks to retirement security, including raising the danger that a woman will outlast her savings or incur costly medical bills without help from a spouse.

In addition to these factors, women overall still earn less than men and have less in the way of retirement benefits for old age.

"The bottom line is that women are subject to a double whammy: They need more but have less," said Alicia H. Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College and a former member of the White House Council of Economic Advisors.
They need what they gave up: husbands.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 28, 2006 12:00 AM

Fish, meet bicycle.

Posted by: Gideon at December 28, 2006 12:13 PM

More men commenting on things both above and below their levels of comprehension.

Posted by: erp at December 28, 2006 12:37 PM

I've been reading a great book on the topic of women and their finances that may be very helpful to women in situations as these. It's called Women, Get Answers About Your Money by Carolyn Castleberry. Although I am not an older woman or without a husband, I feel like I am getting a good education for our future, especially if I were to be without my husband one day.

Posted by: kelly at December 28, 2006 5:42 PM

erp: smugness is not a virtue. Logical and patient explanation, thoughtful argument: these are not "male domains" closed to your understanding either. Try them.

Kelly: my grandmother, who was happily married, nonetheless took pains to understand finances: and when her husband died, she coped with the "advisors" brilliantly, much to their chagrin.

Posted by: Arnold Williams at December 29, 2006 12:14 PM