by Judy M McCutcheon MBA
Every week I learn something new. As I was preparing to write this article on retirement and what it means for the divorced older woman, I came across something called the ‘Grey Divorce Revolution.’ This had me thinking about marriages and their relevance.
A recent study shows that the rate of couples divorcing in their 50s doubled between 1990 and 2010 and that today 1 in every 4 divorces is a couple in their 50s. What are these numbers saying to us? Are women finally deciding to break the bonds of unhappiness and live the life they desire? While getting divorced would give you the freedom from an unhappy marriage, it does not come without its challenges. As women, we face an uphill battle as it relates to being able to afford our retirement. Married women can take solace in the fact that their retirement planning situation is a team effort. For an older woman who is divorced, financial struggles are compounded because she is starting almost from ground zero.
I was reading an article in the New York Times called ‘Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism’, and while this article seeks to underscore the reason why women in the Eastern Bloc enjoyed more harmonious relationships and better sex, it did point out some interesting facts. Women in the Eastern Bloc enjoyed more rights at that time than women in liberalised democracies; the state invested majorly in their education and training, they were fully incorporated into the labour force, they had generous maternity leave allowances and guaranteed free child care. In the article, 1 woman pointed out that after her divorce she had her job and that she didn’t need a man to support her. The article further articulated that life during that time was less stressful than it is today and that they owed this quality of life somewhat to the fact that the regime at that time saw the emancipation of women as central to their advancement. What does all this mean to us with all our liberalisation?
I remember my separation and subsequent divorce. I was younger, and I walked away from the marriage not wanting anything, and that was my choice because all I wanted was to get out from a situation that no longer served me. I had time on my side and could rebuild on my own, but what does divorce after 50 means, in terms of retirement and financial security?
When younger couples divorce it’s easier for them to detach because they would not have accumulated any significant assets. However, after you’ve been married for 30 plus years you now have to divide a lifetime worth of assets and more than likely take a big financial hit, just as you are about to enter the home stretch of your working life. The struggle for a lot of women at this time is real; the gender wage gap is not fictitious, it does exist. Women, in general, earn 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. So, tell me how does a woman in her 50s who may have had to divide up her assets and who probably would have been out of the workforce for some time to raise her kids, able to afford a decent living? A friend once told me that she decided to try using an online retirement calculator, and with the results she got back she concluded that: 1) she could find a younger man who is able to work for longer years and provide for her; 2) save aggressively; 3) find a rich older man to provide for her. Me, I’m loving number 1 – do I hear cougar?
But on a serious note, how are women expected to survive 30 plus years after retirement under these conditions? The truth is, on average women live longer than men and earn much less than they do, so any significant saving is difficult at best and made even more problematic if you are divorced. And when we do save, we are saving for other things; retirement saving is not a priority. We want to ensure that our children are taken care of, even if our children are grown adults and should be able to take care of themselves.
Ladies, it’s about time we learn to pay ourselves first. Let us look at our saving like a job; some people get paid weekly, some bi-monthly and some monthly; it does not matter how you decide to save, once you save. You know, it really should not matter whether you have a man in your life, you should be able to adequately fund your retirement, you must focus on you and the things you need to do to ensure that you do not outlive your retirement nest egg. Retirement is really a personal thing, but it is my belief that after you’ve gotten to 60 or 65 that you should be able to decide whether you want to continue working or not, you should be able to choose whether you want to continue leaning into that job or whether you want to step away. Once you are committed to learning more about your finances, proper retirement planning, disciplined saving, seeking professional guidance and being open to taking some measure of risk — investment is an absolute necessity — because you simply cannot fund your retirement on savings only, then you are well on your way to sailing into your retirement gracefully.
Judy McCutcheon is a partner in the firm Go Blue Inc, a Human Development Company. www.goblueinc.net