Women have grown increasingly well-prepared for retirement, data suggests

Research from the Boston College Center for Retirement Research looks at how the retirement landscape for women has evolved since the passage of Title IX

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 codified the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes pregnancy, sexual orientation and gender identity. In the 50 years since the passage of Title IX, women have made visible and demonstrable progress in the realm of retirement planning, according to a new research brief from the Boston College Center for Retirement Research (CRR).

The brief, authored by CRR Director Alicia H. Munnell and researchers Siyan Liu and Laura D. Quinby, dives deeply into data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to assess the ways in which the retirement situation for women has changed since 1972, even if certain challenges may remain.

“In the 50 years since the enactment of Title IX, women have made enormous strides in terms of

educational attainment, work, and earnings,” the brief reads. “Although a wage gap by gender persists, women’s progress in the workforce has clearly enhanced their economic status as individuals. On the other hand, women have chosen to spend less of their adult life married, and the decision to eschew the potential support of a spouse could have put them more at risk economically.”

One data point which may have played a role in the generally increased standing of women in retirement came from the attainment of higher education degrees, the brief reads.

“First, the share of women with a degree has increased enormously, from 15% for those

born in the 1930s to one-third for Late Boomers, born in the early 1960s,” the brief explains. “Second, for recent cohorts, a greater percentage of women than men ended up with a college degree.”

General labor force participation among the cohort has also shown a dramatic increase, based on data from the HRS.

“The percentage of prime-age women in the labor force increased from 57% for the earliest cohort to 76% for the Late Boomers,” the brief reads. “The increase has markedly reduced the differential between women and their male counterparts for whom labor force participation rates have remained relatively constant between 85% and 88%.”

Those two data points taken together — illustrating the higher participation of women in both the attainment of higher education and in workforce participation — have naturally translated to increased earnings, the brief explains. HRS data does not contain information on hours worked, so to glean information about that factor the researchers instead turned to the Current Population Survey. Data from both surveys in tandem helped researchers assert that women’s standing in retirement preparedness has increased significantly.

“In summary, the economic life of women has changed dramatically,” the brief says. “The question, however, is the extent to which women are prepared for retirement. That answer depends not only on the economics of women as individuals but also their living arrangements. To the extent that women have moved away from marriage and eschewed the potential support of a spouse, they could have put themselves more at risk economically.”

However, the data does not bear that out when looking specifically at the rates of marriage, the data suggests.

“Strikingly, […] the results show that it is the women who have spent most of their lives married who look worse off in terms of retirement preparedness,” the brief reads. “In contrast, at the median, mostly-single and never-married women have gained ground on those who are mostly-married.”

Read the research brief at the Boston College CRR.

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