A recent Gallup poll found that the top financial worry among Americans today remains whether they'll have enough money for retirement. While these are concerns shared by males and females alike, women as a group may be particularly susceptible to financial turmoil in their later years.
There are several factors, including an average lifespan that's longer than their male counterparts, that makes retirement planning more challenging for women. But by learning the most prominent risks that come with retirement, women can unlock the secrets to financial stability in their golden years.
Here are six facts on women and retirement that can help guide successful planning.
1. Career success doesn't equal financial success
"Financial education has less to do with the type of job a woman holds and more to do with how she was raised to think about money," says Patricia Nelson, founder of the community outreach program Wise Women Workshop. In her practice, Nelson sees breadwinner wives who leave financial decisions to their spouse and stay-at-home moms who take charge of the household's financial planning.
Even so, recent research conducted by Fidelity Investments indicates that women are overwhelmingly less involved in family finances than their male spouses. This trend may also be worsening, as Generation Y and Generation X women currently play less significant roles in long-term financial planning decisions for their families than do baby boomer women.
"We teach a lot of algebra in school, which is great for college placement," says Nelson, "but we're not teaching financial literacy. We should be teaching kids about having a checking account, how credit works, and how to practice restraint to boost a savings account balance."
At home, she adds, dads sometimes talk to their sons about money but less frequently to their daughters. This can leave women unprepared for life's financial challenges, regardless of how much they earn.
2. Women can outlive husbands by 15 to 20 years
Not only do women generally have longer life expectancies than men, they also often marry men older than themselves. As a result, many women may outlive their husbands by a staggering 15 to 20 years.
As women age, the repercussions for being less involved in financial decisions can be staggering. "Women over the age of 75 are the largest segment of the poverty population right now," says Nelson. "Many women let their husbands handle the finances so, in the end, they aren't properly planned for."
Nelson adds that husbands don't necessarily intend to be malicious, but she has seen instances where financial decisions were made without the necessary knowledge or foresight needed to plan for an extended financial future. If a woman intends to be financially solvent throughout her life, it's in her best interest to stay involved in her family's finances.
3. The unthinkable can -- and sometimes does -- happen
"The No. 1 reason women don't become involved in their family's long-term financial plan is because they often view money through an emotional filter," says Nelson.
This is particularly true when it comes to planning life insurance coverage. As terrible as it is to envision, sometimes spouses die unexpectedly. If a husband is a primary breadwinner (or even a substantial financial contributor), women and their children can face dire financial consequences without adequate life insurance coverage.
Households with a female breadwinner should also take heed: Stay-at-home dads need the same financial protections.
4. Women are often better investors than men
There's a certain irony involved with women shying away from financial planning when the data show that female investors often outperform male investors. A 2014 study by accounting and advisory firm Rothstein Kass found that hedge funds owned or managed by women consistently outperformed industry benchmarks.
An older study by University of California professors also suggests that overconfidence among male investors leads them to higher trading volumes, which in turn hurts their yields relative to female investors, who tend to favor less investment turnover. Thus the presumption that women are somehow less suited to making investment decisions may be hurting everyone in the family.
5. Small savings can add up to big balances
It's easy to become complacent about recurring but necessary bills like home and auto insurance policies. "Most people sign up with a carrier and stay with them for 10 to 20 years," says Nelson. "Today though, there are no savings for loyalty. When a client switches carriers I see them save, on average, $600 to $800 per year."
Nelson also suggests negotiating with utility, cable and cell phone carriers. "Most companies want to keep your business and will figure out a way to knock $20 to $40 per month off of your bill. You have to be proactive about calling them though, because no company is going to call you to tell you how to save on your plans."
While these moves may seem inconsequential in the short term, they can easily add up over time -- something women are likely to have more of, reminds Nelson.
"Even small changes can boost a saving account or retirement balance by a substantial amount," she says. "When it comes to retirement, women need to put themselves first because, ultimately, they're the ones who are living the longest."