Retirement is a joint project for married couples, but remarkably only 43 percent of couples plan for it together.
Are wives to blame?
Some husbands expressed frustration that their wives don’t engage in planning during a focus group conducted by Hearts & Wallets. One man reported that his wife “is not interested in investing,” and another said “all my wife cares about is if we’re going to have the money.”
A San Francisco man volunteered this worst-case scenario: “If I were to get hit by BART on the way home, she would be clueless about what to do with whatsoever there is or how to handle anything.”
Hearts & Wallets cofounder Laura Varas calls it the issue of the “uninvolved spouse.” In a new analysis of its 2013 survey data on 5,400 US households, the financial research firm found that 80 percent of these uninvolved spouses are wives among couples approaching retirement age. The good news is that younger wives are more engaged, Varas said. In early- and mid-career couples, fewer than 60 percent of uninvolved spouses were women.
Yet it’s hard to imagine how anyone can avoid this conversation, given the myriad issues to resolve: Will you stagger your retirement dates, especially if your ages are far apart? If saving and paying off the mortgage are twin retirement goals, are you both still contributing enough to your 401(k)s to ensure you get the full employer match? Have you coordinated your strategies for claiming Social Security? Will you be financially secure if your spouse dies first?
“I have a lot of empathy and want to get those women more involved,” Vargas said, but “I also understand why their husbands are concerned about them.”
Lower financial literacy among women, a focus on offspring rather than money, math anxiety – any or all of these may explain disinterested wives . But the facts are that women typically out-live their husbands, retirement is complicated, and two heads are better than one at sorting out the financial issues.
Getting involved is the smart thing to do, and more younger women are figuring this out.