Gen X women are now between the ages of 43 and 58, which means retirement is on the not-too-distant horizon for some of them. However, instead of looking forward to this phase of life, many women in this generation dread it.
A 2019 study conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that members of Generation X feel less confident about retirement than millennials and baby boomers. The study found that over half of Gen Xers don’t believe their current financial circumstances will allow them to live comfortably throughout retirement, afford the same lifestyle in retirement, have enough money to last their entire life or cover basic expenses in retirement.
So why is this generation, in particular, feeling so anxious about retirement? And why could women be more at risk for feeling this way? Here’s a look at why Gen X women may feel less prepared for retirement than boomer or millennial women, and what they can do to feel more ready.
Reasons Gen X Women Don’t Feel Ready for Retirement
Several factors could lead Gen X women to feel they are not prepared for their retirement years. Here’s a look at some of the hurdles women of this generation could be facing.
Student loan debt could take more of a toll on the finances of Gen X women than women of other generations.
“Gen X is the first generation of women for whom student loans are a significant financial burden,” said Melissa Mabley Martin, wealth advisor at Bartlett Wealth Management. “The oldest baby boomers paid an average of $243 per year for tuition at a public college and $1,088 for a private college. It was possible to ‘work your way through school.’ By the time Gen X entered university, costs had skyrocketed at a rate well above general inflation, and it was no longer financially feasible for the average person without significant savings to get through school without loans.”
Although millennials are also burdened with student loan debt, Mabley Martin believes a lack of financial literacy may play a role in why Gen X could have taken on more debt than the next generation.
“The difference between Gen X and millennials is that millennials are likely better educated about the consequences of taking out excessive student loans,” she said. “Gen X was sold hard on the importance of getting a good education so that you could get a higher-paying job — in essence, that the degree would pay for itself with a higher salary. Millennials went in with their eyes wide open, and also benefitted from lower rates on fixed federal student loans.”
While every generation has had to weather certain economic storms, the state of the economy has taken a toll on Gen X in particular.
“When the ‘tech wreck’ and September 11th happened, Gen X was in their early 20s to mid-30s — peak years to save for retirement,” Mabley Martin said. “When the financial crisis hit, most women in Gen X were mid-career. Unemployment skyrocketed and savings stalled during those prime earning years. The COVID recession a little more than 10 years later was short, but the fallout from the pandemic forced many women to leave the workforce altogether either to supervise remote learning or to care for aging parents.”
The Caregiving Conundrum
Gen X women have had to bear the brunt of caregiving — times two. This can take a major hit on their ability to save for retirement.
“Generation X is commonly referred to as the ‘Sandwich Generation,’ saddled with providing care and financial support to both their parents and their children,” Mabley Martin said. “According to the AARP, the average caregiver in America is a 49-year-old woman. These caregiving responsibilities are unpaid and, unsurprisingly, are reported to be affecting a woman’s ability to save for retirement. And it doesn’t end when those children reach adulthood. More than half of adults ages 18 to 29 reported being supported financially by their parents.”
Changing Retirement Income Options
“Defined benefit programs, [aka] pensions, were common for baby boomers — not just for government employees but at the corporate level,” Mabley Martin said. “These are virtually nonexistent today.”
In addition to not having the same access to pensions as their predecessors, the Social Security program may look different by the time Gen X reaches their retirement years.
“Social Security, which is a primary source of retirement income for the majority of Americans, is projected to have a shortfall beginning in 2035,” Mabley Martin said. “For beneficiaries 60 and younger, the Social Security statements now contain what is essentially a warning that they will be able to pay out approximately $800 of every $1,000 in current benefits given current laws. Millennials should have enough time to pivot and make plans to supplement any potential shortfall in Social Security benefits, but the oldest Gen X women are now rapidly approaching 60. It may be too late to do anything other than push out your retirement date and continue to work.”
What Gen X Women Can Do To Prepare for Retirement
Although it may seem like the deck is stacked against them, there are still levers Gen X women can pull to increase their retirement readiness. The No. 1 thing to do is create a solid financial plan, Mabley Martin said.
“Careful financial planning is essential to a successful financial future,” she said. “This isn’t just true for Gen X women, but it’s going to be particularly important [for them] because, unlike members of younger generations, their savings don’t have the benefit of a long time horizon. They may need to save more or work longer or both in order to ensure they have sufficient resources to fund their retirement.”
Paul Tyler of Nassau Financial Group in Hartford, Connecticut, notes that it’s important for women of this generation to have their own retirement savings, independent of their spouses.
“Women in particular need to recognize they will likely outlive their spouse or partner, and actively plan to build predictable income for later in retirement,” he said, “whether through an IRA, 401(k) or annuity.”