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Retirement riskier for women

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Posted: 4 pm ET

When I got out the holiday decorations, I found some pictures of my grandmother baking bread. They were shot sometime in the early 1970s, a few years before she died at 94 in a nursing home, complaining with every breath.

It was hard on her, and hard on the rest of us who didn't have enough money or resources to provide the kind of care she needed in a place where she wanted to be.

Women are more likely than men to spend years trying to make do with less money than they really need, the Society of Actuaries says in a retirement planning report that it co-authored with Cindy Hounsell, president of the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement, or WISER.

"For most women, there is little room for error and being unprepared ... will have consequences. Women need to know what their future risks are and make mitigating those risks a priority throughout their lives," Hounsell said in statement that introduced the report.

Longevity is a big risk for women. My grandmother was a widow for nearly 30 years. The pension that my grandfather left behind, Social Security and a lifetime of savings didn't add up to enough to allow her to pay all the bills as she got older and older. As we boomer women head into retirement that is likely to be our situation as well. The actuarial study found that 92 percent of retired women haven't taken into account the fact that they are likely to live into their 90s and may even reach 100 -- a  lifespan that creates a need for significant and ongoing income.

Issues the actuaries say have a big impact on older women are:

Losing a spouse. Eighty-five percent of women over age 85 are widows, compared to 45 percent of men. Because women have longer life expectancies than men and traditionally are younger than their husbands, periods of widowhood of 15 years or more are not uncommon. For many women, the death of a spouse is accompanied by a decline in her standard of living.

A woman's need for health care is greater. Women are likely to have a longer period of chronic disability and are more likely to need care in a nursing home or from a paid caregiver. The expected average value of the cost of lifetime long-term care services is $29,000 for men and $82,000 for women, the actuaries calculate.

Medical expenses eat up more of  a woman's income. Women often have lower incomes, but not lower health care costs, and they are less likely to have employer-provided health benefits prior to being eligible for Medicare. About 55 percent of women are concerned that they might not have enough money to pay for health care costs in retirement, compared to 42 percent of men.

What can be done? There are no easy answers. The actuaries say 69 percent of women approaching retirement plan to work longer than they thought they would before the economic downturn. That's not the best solution, but I think it's preferable to an all-kibble diet.

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