Retirement & Financial Planning Report

In recent years the percentage of women who have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan has surpassed that of men—largely because of the decline in men covered by such plans—but women still face more financial insecurity in retirement overall, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

GAO said that over the decade ending in 2009, working women’s access to and participation in employer-sponsored retirement plans have improved relative to men, and during that time women’s participation in defined contribution retirement plans also increased, although overall women invest in such plans at lower levels of men.

It added: "Although the composition of income for women age 65 and over did not vary greatly over the period—despite changes in the economy and pension system— women continued to have less retirement income on average and live in higher rates of poverty than men in that age group. The composition of women’s income varied only slightly, in part, because their main income sources—Social Security and defined benefits benefits—were shielded from fluctuations in the market.

"Women, especially widows and those age 80 and over, depended on Social Security benefits for a larger percentage of their income than men. For example, in 2010, 16 percent of women age 65 and over depended solely on Social Security for income compared to 12 percent of men. At the same time, the share of household income women received from earnings increased over the period, but was consistently lower than for men. Moreover, women’s median income was approximately 25 percent lower than men’s over the last decade, and the poverty rate for women in this age group was nearly two times higher than men’s in 2010. "

In addition, divorce and widowhood had more pronounced effects for women than for men. Women’s household income, on average, fell by 41 percent with divorce, almost twice the size of the decline that men experienced. For widowhood, women’s household income fell by 37 percent—while men’s declined by only 22 percent. Unemployment also had a detrimental effect on income security, though the effects were similar for women and men; household assets and income fell by 7 to 9 percent.