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Gender differences in saving for retirement linked to financial needs, Willis Towers Watson survey finds

Employers may add or expand financial well-being programs as workers’ retirement confidence slips


March 28, 2018

Saving for retirement is one of the top financial priorities for all working Americans.

ARLINGTON, VA, March 28, 2018 — Saving for retirement is one of the top financial priorities for most working Americans. However, competing financial needs are impacting how men and women emphasize saving for retirement, according to the 2017 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey conducted by leading global advisory, broking and solutions company, Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW). The survey of nearly 5,000 U.S. employees also revealed that while importance of retirement security has increased sharply over the past few years, workers’ retirement confidence has turned downward, which could prompt employers to boost their offering of financial well-being programs.

“Saving for retirement is a significant challenge for the vast majority of working Americans,” said Shane Bartling, senior consultant, Willis Towers Watson. “Varying financial needs make building a retirement nest egg difficult for many men and women. While our survey finds that women place a lower priority on saving for retirement than men do, we believe it’s a question of, ‘Am I able to save for retirement?’ rather than, ‘Is saving for retirement important?’”

According to the survey, 60% of working men ranked saving for retirement as a top financial priority. In contrast, 44% of women surveyed ranked saving for retirement as a top priority. In fact, saving for retirement was the fifth-highest priority for most women, who ranked meeting daily living costs (64%) and paying off debt (57%) as top financial priorities. To note, married women without any children under age of 18 selected saving for retirement most often as a top financial priority. The survey noted that most employees do not prioritize their own finances toward saving for retirement until their 40s or 50s, when other financial needs have been met.

At the same time, workers’ retirement confidence has declined following several years of steady improvement. More than half of respondents (57%) feel confident they have enough financial resources to live comfortably 15 years into retirement, but that is down from 69% in 2015. Retirement confidence had been rising steadily since 2009 when 61% were confident. In addition, less than two in five women (39%) are now confident they’ll have enough resources to last 25 years into retirement compared with 54% of men.

More workers expecting to work into their 70s

More than one in three (37%) workers surveyed expect to work past age 70, an increase from 30% two years ago. Only one in four workers (26%) says he or she will be able to retiree before age 65, down from 29% in 2015. Struggling employees — identified in the survey as those worried about their short- and long-term finances — are feeling the greatest pressure to retire later. Two-thirds of struggling employees who are age 50 or older today don’t expect to be able to retire before age 70. About 30% of the employees surveyed were identified as “struggling.”

“Financial pressures are driving many employees to retire later,” said Pat Rotello, senior consultant at Willis Towers Watson. “Employees with money worries are more likely to keep working past historically typical retirement ages to help sustain their income. Our research shows employees who work longer are typically less healthy, more stressed and less engaged at work. Given these developments, we believe employers will want to evaluate their retirement plans and financial well-being initiatives. In fact, seeing more employers develop and implement financial well-being programs to help their employees achieve their retirement and financial goals would not surprise us.”

Among other findings from the Global Benefits Attitudes Survey:

  • Three in four workers (74%) believe their generation is likely to be much worse off in retirement than their parents’ generation.
  • About two-thirds believe Social Security (68%) will be much less when they retire than it is now and government medical benefits (66%) will be worse.
  • Half of workers (50%) plan to retire from their main job but will keep working for some time before fully retiring.

About the survey

The 2017 Willis Towers Watson Global Benefits Attitudes Survey examines attitudes toward the health and retirement benefits of over 30,000 private sector employees in 22 countries. A total of 4,983 U.S. workers participated in the survey, which was conducted in July and August 2017.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has over 40,000 employees serving more than 140 countries. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential.

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