Women and Retirement: Investing in More than "Back to Work"

sara sanford - SEPTEMBER 17, 2021

It’s no secret that women carried the majority of COVID-related job losses. As we continue to study the impact that leaving the workforce has on women, Financial Advisor recently reported a headline-worthy takeaway: ​“Women’s Biggest Financial Regrets: Not Investing More Tops List.”

She-cession. I first heard this newly coined term a few weeks ago and I must admit, I bristled. I’m of the belief that we are more than numbers and statistics – to me, there are people and lives behind these research studies. There are faces to these facts.

It’s no secret that women carried the majority of COVID-related job losses. In 2020, we lost a million more jobs than men, and women leaving the workforce accounted for all 140,000 jobs lost in December of 20201. Women of color were hit the hardest, facing higher unemployment numbers than white women2. Even now that employment is starting to bounce back, employment numbers still lag behind for women of color3.

As we continue to study the impact that leaving the workforce has on women, Financial Advisor recently reported a headline-worthy takeaway:

“Women’s Biggest Financial Regrets: Not Investing More Tops List.” 4

From Pay Gap to Wealth Gap

While news about the workforce has taken much of the spotlight, this finding around women’s top regret is interesting. It is essential to our financial futures to get back into the workforce, but the buck (pun intended) can’t stop there. The following financial realities make it even more important to remember that we are talking about people’s lives and their livelihood:

  • Women are paid less than men, even for comparable work:5 While efforts toward equal wages have progressed over the last sixty years, over the last decade, progress has stalled6. Women’s salaries peak eleven years earlier than men’s7, and women still make 82 cents for every dollar a man makes8. Experts used to think that it would take until 2059 to close the wage gap, but in 2018, experts adjusted their estimate to the year 21199. Smaller salaries can potentially mean smaller investments in 401(k)s. These disparities can also compound over time, potentially turning a pay gap into an even larger wealth gap.
  • Women live longer, and life expectancies that outlast men by approximately five years often mean more years of retirement to fund10. Unfortunately, retirement funds run out for many. Women over the age of seventy-five are the quickest growing population in poverty in the US. While 8.8 percent of men in this age group live in poverty, 13.2 percent of women over the age of seventy-five are living below the poverty line11.
  • Women invest more time and finances into caregiving than men, and not just as mothers. In a study on the financial impact of cognitive decline12, researchers found that women are particularly vulnerable to seeing their plans for retirement get put on hold because of the financial toll of caretaking. Because they spend more time on caretaking duties than men, 44 percent of female caregivers adjust working patterns, 16 percent move their retirement date up, 9 percent step back from full time to part time, and 7 percent take an indefinite leave of absence. On average, female caregivers sacrifice approximately $35,000 in annual income due to their caregiving responsibilities. That does not include out-of-pocket caregiving costs that they are covering personally.

Closing the Gap

While women have historically faced a multitude of factors that make building wealth through investment important, the pandemic has exacerbated these issues. As unemployed and under-employed women return to work, our financial recovery may be far from over. The opportunity for investment awaits. If our biggest financial regret is not investing, what typically holds us back?

In the report published by Financial Advisor, 60 percent of female respondents said that a lack of investment knowledge was the primary barrier, while 34 percent said they didn’t have the confidence to invest. Despite new waves of outreach to younger generations of women, only 46 percent of millennial women feel confident in investing.

Among those of us who do invest, however, 77 percent said they felt they would be able to save enough money to last them the rest of their lives.

So, is this lack of confidence founded? Is there really a lack of investment knowledge? Do women underperform men when they invest? Do we need to consider different investment strategies than our male counterparts?

The next blog in this series will answer these questions and speak to the common perceptions (or possibly misperceptions) around women and investing.


To learn more about Jackson’s educational, professional, and inclusion efforts, please visit our Community Resources section or our Diversity & Inclusion page.



1. Maggie McGrath, “American Women Lost More than 5 Million Jobs in 2020,” Forbes, Jan 12, 2021.

2. Meredith Covington, Ana H. Kent, “‘The She-Cession’ Persists, Especially for Women of Color,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, December 24, 2020.

3. Nate Rattner, Thomas Franck, “Black and Hispanic Women Aren’t Sharing in the Job Market Recovery,” CNBC, March 5, 2021.

4. “Women’s Biggest Financial Regrets: Not Investing More Tops List,” Financial Advisor, June 2, 2021.

5. Claire Cain Miller, “As Women Take Over a Male-Dominated Field, the Pay Drops,” The New York Times, March 18, 2016.

6. Robin Bleiweis, “Why Salary History Bans Matter to Securing Equal Pay,” Center for American Progress, March 24, 2021.

7.  “Earnings Peak at Different Ages for Different Demographic Groups,” Pay Scale, June 4, 2019.

8. “The State of the Gender Pay Gap in 2021,” Pay Scale, 2021.

9. Amy Becker, “Gender Pay Gap Remains at 20 Cents,” September 12, 2017.

10. Laurel Wamsley, “American Life Expectancy Dropped by a Full Year in 1st Half of 2020,” NPR, February 18, 2021.

11. Robin Bleiweis, Diana Boesch, Alexandra Cawthorne Gaines, “The Basic Facts about Women in Poverty,” Center for American Progress, August 3, 2020.

12. “The Cost of Caregiving Falls Disproportionately on Women,” Royal Bank of Canada

About the author

Sara Sanford, Executive Director, Gender Equity Now (GEN)

Sara Sanford is the Executive Director of Gender Equity Now (GEN), and the architect behind the GEN Certification, the first gold standard for gender parity in U.S. businesses.


Annuities are issued by Jackson National Life Insurance Company (Home Office: Lansing, Michigan) and in New York, annuities are issued by Jackson National Life Insurance Company of New York (Home Office: Purchase, New York). Variable products are distributed by Jackson National Life Distributors LLC, member FINRA. May not be available in all states and state variations may apply. These products have limitations and restrictions. Contact the Company for more information.

Jackson® is the marketing name for Jackson Financial Inc., Jackson National Life Insurance Company®, and Jackson National Life Insurance Company of New York®.

Sara Sanford is not affiliated with Jackson.