It’s well-known that women still make less than their male counterparts. Just ask the actress Jennifer Lawrence. The Sony Pictures actress showed that she had been paid less than her male colleagues in the film “American Hustle.”

It may be unfair for Lawrence, but the trouble for women as a group is more glaring.

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Gender imbalance in retirement

A panel presentation, “The State of American Retirement — Navigating the Gender Imbalance” sponsored by the IALC in Washington, D.C., this week addressed the troubling topic.

The panel included Kathy Stokes, senior fellow of the Women’s Institute for Secure Retirement; Cindy Levering, former senior vice president of Aon Consulting; Cheryl Phillips, senior vice president of LeadingAge; and Susan Jennings, executive committee member of the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council. The moderator was Rodney Brooks, retirement columnist at The Washington Post.

It doesn’t start in retirement

In an overview, Stokes said that some of the challenges women face in retirement come from the difficulty they face pre-retirement. Besides women earning less, those challenges include working for firms that don’t offer retirement benefits and being more likely to work part-time jobs that don’t offer retirement benefits.

Women also spend on average 14 years out of the workforce as primary caregivers with accompanying losses to 401(k) and defined benefit contributions, and years with no Social Security earnings.

Because women live longer, they are more likely to face functional limitations and to need help with the activities of daily living. Planning for how that will take place is an important conversation for couples to have, but it also should involve the adult children.

Phillips suggests Thanksgiving can be a good time for families to discuss these issues, including advance directives and the seniors’ wishes about living independently.

The panel also discussed the importance of financial literacy for women of all ages. Younger women need to know the importance of investing for retirement. Older women need to understand household finances better and learn how to manage them before they’re on their own.

Divorce makes a difference

Jennings made the point that you have to be married for 10 years before you qualify for a divorced spousal benefit for Social Security, while the average first marriage lasts only 8 years. She also said that divorced spouses need to focus not just on child support but also on getting a share of the ex’s retirement benefits with a qualified domestic relations order.

Along the way to retirement, there will be competing financial goals. Stokes reminded women that their children can get student loans, but there are no retirement loan programs, and they need to plan ahead.

Levering added that raiding retirement accounts for weddings was a bad idea.

The myths surrounding Medicare and Medicaid

Managing health care and long-term care costs in retirement were an important focus of the panel’s discussion. Phillips described the 2 biggest myths in this area are that Medicare will pay for long-term care, and if it doesn’t, Medicaid will pay for it.

In general, Medicare doesn’t pay for long-term care, outside of skilled nursing care after a qualified hospital visit, and qualifying for Medicaid isn’t an easy path.

Phillips said that after age 85 there is a 50% risk of cognitive impairment. It’s the No. 1 reason for needing long-term care, and 3 to 7 years of support needs are typical in this situation.

Insurance and annuities

Jennings said that retirees already may have insurance policies and annuity contracts with provisions for declining health and long-term care needs, and to review those policies to understand coverage.

What’s my takeaway from attending the presentation?

It’s never too soon to stress financial literacy and the importance of a woman planning for and managing her finances, as part of her family and for when she’s on her own. Health care and long-term care are major concerns in retirement and planning is required to meet those needs.

What retirement challenges do you feel are gender biased?

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