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Our role in closing the gender gap in retirement

Gender gap

next issue no. 9: Participant engagement

The year 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX. This landmark piece of legislation has contributed massively to the workplace becoming more equitable for women. More women now attend college than men (74% to 66%), and more women work in public sector roles than men (24% to 16%), both of which have been linked to higher access to retirement savings vehicles. However, retirement planning and savings remain a major area of concern. Among pension beneficiaries at age 65+, women in the U.S. on average receive 33.7% less income compared to the average man; worse than the OECD average of 25.6%.


This perpetual gap in retirement savings between men and women – sons and daughters, mothers and fathers – remains a significant hurdle that we have the power to help overcome.

The great divide

While we have seen progress toward increased financial equity across genders, it’s too slow and unsteady to expect meaningful change. Across all genders, saving for retirement seems more difficult for American workers today than it was for prior generations.

For women, it’s even harder for a few reasons.

Women's earnings

Women are also more likely to be part-time employees, and are less likely to work in industries with traditionally strong retirement savings plans, which depress the amount they are likely to save for retirement.

It is important to note that this isn’t a problem unique to America. Among pension beneficiaries at age 65+, women in the U.S. on average receive 33.7% less income compared to the average man. While this is worse than the OECD average of 25.6%, the gaps in Japan and the United Kingdom are even larger than those in the U.S., at 47.4% and 40.5%, respectively.4

Women are less certain of their retirement savings than men. The TIAA Retirement Insights Survey found that only 21% of women are confident in their ability to plan for retirement, compared to 37% of men, while 69% of women are concerned that they are not saving enough for retirement, again compared to just 57% for men.5

But wait, there’s more. There is also just a fundamental financial literacy gap, with men scoring 55% on the TIAA financial literacy index, and women scoring 45%.6 This shows fundamental knowledge gaps that can exacerbate already extant structural issues.

But, importantly, there are also factors that have worked to narrow the gap in retirement savings plans over recent years. More women now attend college than men (74% to 66%), and more women work in public sector roles than men (24% to 16%), both of which have been linked to higher access to retirement savings vehicles to boost savings.

Women's vs. men's retirement confidence

Building a bridge

But in an effort to not just be a source of doom and gloom, it is important to examine what can be done to help rectify these gaps.

There are reasons to be more optimistic for the future. The labor force participation rate for women continues to climb, and the median earnings number for women versus men has consistently narrowed over time. Simply having more women in the workforce, and having those women earn a closer amount to their male counterparts will go a long way toward narrowing the gaps over time. Further, the continued growth of women attaining college degrees will also further help narrow the gap over generational timeframes.

Smoothing over the gaps where women take time out of the workforce due to primary caregiver responsibilities would help lessen the significance of the gaps in savings.

We would also argue that there are certain baseline elements of retirement savings that employers should ensure they have in place in order to further level the playing field.


Careful consideration of work-life balance benefits must be taken into account with focus on the likelihood of women taking breaks from the workforce due to primary caregiver responsibilities, as this means that they are more likely to fall behind in retirement savings. Ensuring that there is a seamless progression in growing retirement savings vehicles through any temporary periods outside the labor force would help. These benefits can include specific provisions for elder care or child care, and working to connect those dots between the broader societal roles that women play and their roles in the workforce.

Employers need to ensure that they are communicating these benefits, and continually educating their employees as to the programs available. This needs to happen throughout the career lifecycle. As we discuss in our On The Horizon article in this edition, well-thought-out benefits and communication programs can also be a useful tool for recruitment and retention. Applying these tools across a workforce can help show to employees that a company is an engaged member of their lives, and is working hard to rectify historical and structural issues, such as those that result in women’s retirement savings being so much lower than men’s.

Connect the points

There is also a significant element of DE&I to these considerations. There is a fundamental and growing desire among employees to feel secure and valued at work. Working to ensure that women remain a valued and cared for segment of the workforce is valuable for companies, and something that broader stakeholder groups are advocating. Employees are looking for more than just a paycheck, steps must be taken to extend equity into communications around benefits offerings to create that culture of enhancing retirement confidence with the employee base.

Diversity, equity and inclusion: Fostering an environment in which all members of society are treated equitably.

Now is the right time to take these steps. The labor market is incredibly tight, and attracting and retaining employees has never been a more difficult task. Programs that highlight the value of saving early, often and consistently throughout a career should be considered the baseline. Further, programs that include an element of guaranteed lifetime income are well worth considering as part of an overall plan construction. As women live longer and have lower savings level, the risk of running out of money in retirement can be greatly reduced through the inclusion of some form of annuity.

In this issue
Retirement How to communicate amid ongoing inflation and volatile markets
The market environment has been highly volatile and deeply negative through 2022. Stocks and bonds are falling in tandem, breaking historical patterns.
Retirement Best practices for plan fiduciaries
It is important to understand exactly who is an ERISA fiduciary, what their responsibilities are, and what steps can be taken to help protect the plan and fiduciaries when sponsoring, maintaining and administering a retirement plan.
Retirement What will make you stay?
Despite higher inflation, the U.S. equity market down year to date and growing questions about the U.S. economy is heading toward a recession, the employment market remains one of the brightest stories and best pandemic recovery narratives around for employees.
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1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. 24 Jan 2022.

2 OECD (2021), Towards Improved Retirement Savings Outcomes for Women, OECD Publishing, Paris,

3 Mortality in the United States 2020.

4 OECD (2021), Towards Improved Retirement Savings Outcomes for Women, OECD Publishing, Paris,

5 The 2022 TIAA Retirement Insights Survey was conducted online from Dec. 21, 2021 to Jan. 7, 2022 surveying 1,008 retirement plan participants ages, ages 25 to 70 employed full-time at a company with 50+ employees and participates in a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, and 500 benefit plan decision makers employed full-time at a company with 50+ employees and offers a 401(k) or 403(b) plan.

6 TIAA Institute-GFLEC Personal Finance Index, 2022.

The views and opinions expressed are for informational and educational purposes only as of the date of production/writing and may change without notice at any time based on numerous factors, such as market or other conditions, legal and regulatory developments, additional risks and uncertainties and may not come to pass. This material may contain “forward-looking” information that is not purely historical in nature. Such information may include, among other things, projections, forecasts, estimates of market returns, and proposed or expected portfolio composition. Any changes to assumptions that may have been made in preparing this material could have a material impact on the information presented herein by way of example. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Investing involves risk; principal loss is possible

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