Retirement Costs: Men vs. Women

When it comes to men, women and money, much has been written about the differences between the sexes. Saving patterns, spending habits, goals and retirement-savings activities are just a few financial areas where men and women differ. Interestingly, it appears the costs of retirement also differ depending on sex. As the large Baby Boomer generation moves into retirement, identifying and understanding these differences can help couples and singles of both sexes make more accurate financial plans for retirement. 

Women Live Longer, Spend More

Many of the differences in retirement costs between men and women result simply from women living longer than men. As of 2012, the life expectancy of a 65-year-old woman is 86, two years more than the expected lifespan of a man that age. This means that if a husband and wife of the same age retire at the same time, the woman is likely not only to live longer, but also to spend more time retired, living alone and surviving on a single income. In 2012,  just 45% of women 65 and over were married, while 75% of men aged 65 and over were still married. 

How Spending Patterns Differ

There are few statistics on how retired men and women spend their discretionary income, but divergent spending patterns have long been reported among adult men and women in the United States.

Men spend more on alcohol and electronics, while women may engage in what's known as "retail therapy," spending on clothes, shoes and food. Women-headed households are also more likely to contribute to charitable organizations. At the same time, it's widely reported that women save less than men for retirement due to lower wages and fewer years in the workforce as a result of taking time off to raise children.

Since many women have a lower retirement income than men, they will have correspondingly less discretionary income. This may lead to a situation described as retiree paralysis. Some retirees fear spending money on necessities – what if they live longer than anticipated and the cash they spend now is needed later for medical or living expenses? 

Higher Healthcare Expenses: Women See Doctors More

That's not a theoretical question. Retired women do face higher costs than men for healthcare. In 2012, the per capita out-of-pocket healthcare expenses for women averaged $5,246 versus $4,125 for men.

One reason could be that women are more likely to seek medical attention than men. In 2010, the number of medical visits for women between the ages of 65 and 74 were higher than men in the same age group. For every 100 people, 741 visits to physicians' offices, outpatient hospital clinics and hospital emergency rooms were by women, compared to just 680 visits by men. 

When Seniors Can't Live Alone

Given that women live longer than men, they are more likely to outlive their spouse and reach the age where they may require an assisted-living arrangement or a room in a nursing home.

The next time you visit a nursing home, pay attention to the ratio of men to women. More than 70% of nursing-home residents are women, who are on average  80 years old when they first enter the home. About 1.3 million Americans over age 65 have entered a nursing home, and they can expect to spend plenty. A 2014 Genworth study shows the average annual cost for a private room was $87,600, while a shared room cost $77,380. Where possible, this potential cost should be factored into retirement planning.

The Bottom Line

With women generally living longer than men, they need to budget more for retirement.  Women face higher healthcare costs due to a combination of longer life spans and more frequent medical visits than men, and are more likely to need assisted-living or nursing-home care. A longer retirement is also likely to include more time living on a single income.