The retirement triple-threat facing women

The retirement triple-threat facing women

Why health, wealth and longevity are the three factors putting women
at a disadvantage in later life

Having been a working mother (my children have all flown the nest now), I know how strong our focus can be on the contributions that we need to make to our families. From ensuring they have the latest football kit to saving for our children’s university education – we often place our family’s needs before our own. Yet, there’s a very big reason we should be looking more closely at the contributions we need to make to ourselves to protect our long-term financial future. Women typically live longer than men and may have a smaller pension pot, therefore we need to plan accordingly to make our money last.

While longevity sounds like a blessing, we wouldn’t want to be unwell and struggling financially during our later-life years or become a burden on our children who we had prioritised earlier in our lives. But many of us run the risk that this will be our future. A 40-year-old woman has a one in four chance of living to age 96, and a one in ten chance of living to 1001. Better healthcare and positive lifestyle changes have helped to raise life expectancies across the board, but as women, we are still likely to live longer than men. And with several studies finding that more men than women have died from COVID-19, the life expectancy gap could widen further from here.

The gender pension gulf 

With this in mind, we not only need our pensions to last longer, we also generally have smaller pension pots which is a bad combination. We already know that women typically retire with one-fifth of the pension wealth of men2. New analysis from the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that, when life expectancy is taken into account, the gender pensions gap could be as much as £108,130 for single women, and £186,120 for women who are married or in a relationship3.

Because we tend to live longer, women are also more likely to end up in single-person households later in life. This could add further to our financial pressures because it can be much more expensive to run a household of one, covering all bills alone.

Will you be healthy enough to work longer? 

Adding to this, the State Pension age is rising, which means many people who will rely on this government payment will have to work longer before they can claim it. With this, there’s no guarantee your health will support you working into your later years.

For example, some women may have taken their first job at 16. If you’re planning on working until your late 60s or early 70s, that’s a lot of years in the workforce – you might well be feeling burnt out or struggling with health issues. As early as your mid-40s or early 50s, you could be suffering from symptoms of the menopause, such as ‘brain fog’, which can make it tough for some women to continue working at the pace they once did.

You may want to drop to part-time hours or get a job with less responsibility to take some of the pressure off, even if it just for a few years. But will you be able to afford this flexibility?

Same-sex couples face triple whammy 

For women in same-sex relationships, you may think that your joint longevity will give you a long and happy retirement together. But in fact, you could actually face a triple whammy of challenges. For example, if you both take a period of maternity leave, this could impact your earning power and pension contributions. You may actually need to work longer and face the risk of health conditions spread over a longer length of time.

Luckily, there are things that we can all do to increase our chances of a financially secure life, however long you live. If you do nothing else, have a think about what you want your future to look like. Do an appraisal of all your long-term savings plans, rounding up any small savings pots you may have forgotten about over time. Sit down and have a chat with a financial adviser to see how things are actually looking for your retirement years. Taking into account the money you’ve already saved, and your capacity to save over the coming years – an adviser can model a likely outcome.

For more information or advice on planning retirement, please visit

1 ONS life expectancy calculator, accessed 7 September 2020
2 Securing the Financial Future of the Next Generation, Insuring Women’s Futures and Chartered Insurance Institute, 2018
3 Centre for Economics and Business Research, September 2020

About the author

The retirement triple-threat facing women

Sharon Bonfield, Commercial Research Specialist, St James’s Place Wealth Management (


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