The Wage Gap Is More Damning Than You May Think (Plus Solutions)
Want to know something that will piss you off?
Women end up with a SHIT-TON less money than men when they retire–around 50% less. We’re often told that it’s because women save less. Turns out, that’s not true.
In fact, women save more, as a percentage of our salaries, than our male counterparts. Read that again: women are doing MORE than men but ending with LESS. (Don’t raise your hand if you’re not surprised.) One study, done by Vanguard, shows that women of all ages who participate in voluntary plans put 6% more money towards retirement than men. Suspiciously, men end up with a much higher dollar figure in their accounts than women.
So what gives? The real culprit here? Women earn less than men. A lower salary means a lower absolute dollar figure going into the 401(k), even if she’s committing a higher percentage of her earnings.
Women earn 78-80 cents on the man’s dollar says the Census Bureau’s calculations over the last few years, and this statistic is significantly worse for women of color. In the study by Vanguard, the median wage gap is even shiestier: Men earned, on average, 33% more than women (that’s 75 cents on the dollar). If you’re curious, Vanguard looked at 585,000 participants across 380 different workplaces. So if you don’t believe in the wage gap, you can go ahead and shampoo my crotch.
If we use these numbers to do some crude math, a 33% difference would yield a $733,040 in earnings over a forty-year career. 700K. What would you do with an additional 700K? It’d be a helpful sum considering women live years longer in retirement than men. (With enough left over to get into some pretty weird shit. Sorry I know that’s not the point of earning more but 12/10 would do some weird shit w/700K.) Popular statistics say $430,000 is probably more accurate:
Either way, it’s a lotta scratch.
Vanguard’s study goes on to dispel additional gap myths, like women not investing as aggressively as men. Vanguard found that women keep similar stock and bond allocations as men, showing that the retirement gap has little to do with investing prowess.* Instead, it has everything to do with earning.
Today is April 4th, and it is Equal Pay Day. Why? Because it takes until April 4th for women to earn the same amount that men earned by December 31st of last year. YUP! It takes 15 months for women to earn what men earn in 12. To make the same as men over the course of a career, it’d require women work an additional ten years. It’s a frustrating statistic in its own right but really makes me wanna rip off my titties when I think of all the opportunities it renders inaccessible to women.
When women earn less, women save less, and therefore, women can accomplish less.
(Images by Career Contessa)
And the 400K-700K earnings gap is only the half of it. When men are able to invest more, and apply more money to the magic of compound returns, they end up with a significantly more money in retirement accounts. You know that ol’ adage “it takes money to make money?” Um, yeah. Pretty spot on.
Say for example, that a man and woman both contribute 10% of their salaries to their retirement accounts over the course of forty years (this would be impressive for any person, regardless of gender). Let’s say they both invested and earned a 7% rate of return. Using median wage figures from above, this would result in a $390,000 difference in the balance of their retirement accounts. On TOP of the 400K-700K earnings gap, there’s a $390,000 investing opportunity cost for being a woman.
Of course, this doesn’t even account for the fact that women have breaks in employment due to babies and families.
Speaking of, the wage gap also means women are less equipped to take care of their families. This is especially unfair for the one out of every five children raised by a single mother.
The wage gap means less travel for women, one of the great treasures of life on earth. This is less opportunity to find the perfect palm tree, colored alleyway, street taco/kebob/noodle, mountain trail and/or Brazilian to sleep with. This is less opportunity to meet people that expand horizons in a life-changing ways. (And let’s be real, that extra 20% IS the travel budget. It IS the “experience” money. Any dude taking a 20% pay decrease would most certainly eliminate travel.)
The wage gap means less things you love. For me, that means less costumes. Now I’m upset.
The wage gap means less power, unfortunately. No need to look past the neverending fight for women’s reproductive rights for evidence of that. Less money is less time; time for passions, time for self-care. Less money for women means less giving back, which is unfortunate because women would give it if they had it.
Perhaps most tragically, there is less for women to apply towards ongoing education or starting businesses. There is less for advancement and opportunity.
Perhaps most ironically, women have less money to spend on booze to eliminate the pain of it all. That’s right, no $$ to TAKE THE F*CKING EDGE OFF.
There are plenty of additional roadblocks that directly contribute to the wage and savings discrepancies. Women spend, on average, 11 fewer years in the workforce than men. Women not only raise young families but also tend to act as the primary caretaker for ailing family members, both of which are unpaid positions. When women do find part-time work, it is often low-paying and without benefits. Women often work two jobs for far less pay than a man’s one job. Don’t even get me started on the implicit penalty that pregnant women and mothers inadvertently pay during the course of their careers. I could go on.
The result? RETIRED WOMEN LIVE IN POVERTY. According to the National Institute for Retirement Savings, women over 65 are 80% more likely to live in poverty than their male counterparts. Women ages 75-79 are 3x (that’s 300% y’all) more likely to live in poverty than the same age range of men. White and black widowed women are twice as likely than widowed men to live in poverty. And the hard truth is that any of us could be widowed (or single or divorced). We all know a man ain’t no financial plan, but it’s impossible not to consider it when women spend their days wiping everyone’s asses while society takes advantage of the silent work they do.
Thoroughly enraged yet? Yeah, me too. In the words of Queen Gloria, “The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.” (She also said: “Equal pay for comparable work for women would be the greatest economic stimulus this country could ever have.” Gentlemen, are you listening?)
Now, we do something about it.
While I am all for fighting against a system which keeps women impoverished, we don’t have time to wait around for a change. Today, we need to talk about what you can do to make sure you don’t end up with $390,000 less in your retirement account than the boner at work who sends tractor beams through your blouse all day.
1. Increase your 401(k) contribution right now.
Yep, women already contribute more as a percentage of their salary, but it should be no surprise that we have to work harder for the same outcome. Increase your contribution today. If you don’t have a retirement account through work, open up your own. Don’t worry, it’s not hard! Here’s how to determine which one.
Even if you have to start small, start somewhere! Remember, compound returns work in your favor when you invest young and small amounts can make a huge difference.
2. Ask for a raise.
If women are indeed saving and investing as much as men, then it’s salary that must change. Not asking for raises is only part of the problem, but it’s definitely part of it. In this study done by Levo, 60% of women say that they lack the salary negotiation skills to ask for a raise, and 80% stated that they don’t feel confident doing it.
I get it—it’s fucking terrible. But there’s lots of solid advice out there about knowing your value and methods for talking to your boss. My opinion? Read up on multiple strategies because the reality is, you are going to hate some of ’em. Formulate a personalized plan of attack and don’t be afraid of a “no.”
Here’s a quick tip: “Bolstering,” which is asking for a raise in a dollar-figure range, has been scientifically proven to see better results than asking for a set dollar figure. So for example, if you know you want $80,000, ask for between $80,000 and $85,000. It shows you’re willing to be flexible.
Here are a few salary raise scripts to get you started: We Wrote A Script Asking For a Raise—And It’s Good and 31+ Killer Salary Negotiation Tips.
3. Seek higher-paying employment opportunities.
Of course, women working in lower-paying professions than men (although there’s still a wage gap even when you control for occupation and title, and men still earn more in female-dominated fields like nursing and teaching) contributes to the wage gap. Working yourself into a job where you’re paid more is an obvious solution that can sometimes be swept under the rug when you’re already stressed with work, lack of sleep, and coordinating 9 bachelorette parties per year.
The first step is exploring your options. You can do this within your company and outside of your company, although studies show that switching companies can be the fastest way to a quick raise. Career Contessa is a fantastic resource for women, especially for researching new careers OR moving up the ol’ corporate ladder.
Career Contessa is doing a month-long educational series on fighting the wage gap. If you’re serious about making more money, I strongly encourage you to sign up: Career Contessa’s Equal Pay Me Month.
4. Commit to financial education.
Women are badass warrior she-demons and I don’t doubt that every woman reading this has already smashed some major corporate patriarchy in her day. Still, there’s always more we can learn, especially about money! (That goes for me, too!)
‘Cause while the Vanguard study reports a favorable view of women’s financial confidence, other studies aren’t quite as glowing. In this study, women say they feel less prepared than men to tackle finances. Millennial women think that investing is for dusty, old white dudes, is boring, and women in relationships overwhelmingly let their spouses take care of major financial decisions like investing. (Here’s my fun, no-judgement look at the investing roadblocks and hurdles women face.)
What can you do about this? Commit to your own financial education. Get involved. Read something about finance every Sunday or even better, take five minutes every day. Recently, I created a resource of the 8 most important tools that you need to get your financial life sorted. This is a perfect place to start. If you’re looking for great finance blogs written by, ahem, not me, I love I Will Teach You To Be Rich, The College Investor, and The Financial Diet.
I am as committed as ever to teaching women about finance by cutting through the bullshit. Consider signing up for my newsletter or following along on social media……’Cause we ALL need a reminder to learn about money:
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Together, we CAN improve this situation. Let me know how I can help you, or if you have ideas for your fellow Dumpster Doggies! We in dis together.
*The Vanguard study depicts a favorable view of women investors. While I think it’s pretty spot-on, it’s important to note that Vanguard does engage in what is called “automatic deferral,” where participants are automatically opted into a retirement target-date fund, which is an investment in stock and bond index funds in a proportion that is appropriate for your age (using your expected retirement year as a gauge). This is awesome and every plan should do it, but it may skew the data as compared to retirement plans where investors make the decision about how to allocate their money (specifically, in stocks versus bonds). Said another way, this might not be the best study to look to for real data on how men and women choose to invest their money.
On another note, Vanguard makes great, low-cost retirement target-date funds that anyone should use if they have access to them. Unfortunately, not all target-date funds are created equal. If yours has an expense ratio that’s higher than .5%, I wouldn’t recommend using it.