This Mother’s Day, your mom’s best gift may be a contribution to her 401(k) plan or IRA, with research revealing a significant gap between moms and dads in financial preparedness for retirement.

About half of U.S. mothers have zero dollars in retirement savings, compared to about one-third of fathers who can’t put money away for their later years, according to a recent study analysis from The Century Foundation, which examined data from the Financial Health Network,

The findings show an alarming and widespread unpreparedness for retirement among millions of mothers who are far less likely to save due to factors including persistent gender pay gap and because mothers are more likely than fathers to take time off from work to care for children. Giving up work also curbs potential Social Security benefits, given that the program is based on a person’s highest earnings in 35 years.

“When you see that half of moms don’t have retirement savings, that’s a really shocking statistic,” said Laura Valle Gutierrez, a fellow at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, and author of the new report.

She added: “Mums are really paying the price for a system that doesn’t value care work properly.”

The gap between fathers’ and mothers’ retirement savings is also evident among full-time workers, who are more likely to have access to retirement benefits than people in part-time or gig jobs. About 73% of dads who work full-time have a retirement account, compared to 66% of mothers, Gutierrez found.

“One of the things that surprised me is how persistent this gap is, no matter how we crunch the data,” she noted.

The reason, she added, goes back to several issues that compound the impact on mothers’ financial health. These include the wage gap, where women earn less doing the same job as men, and occupational segregation, which describes how women tend to go into lower-paying careers such as teaching, while men are often encouraged to train for higher paying jobs such as engineering.

Family care responsibilities also typically prevent mothers from saving for retirement, especially if they cut back on work to care for children, parents, or other relatives.

“Moms spend their whole lives caring and working for their families, and when it comes to retirement, they’re just not prepared and can’t retire peacefully,” she said.

Retirement insecurity

Of course, unpreparedness for retirement is not only a problem for women who have children. But wider gaps for moms mean they are more likely than dads to live into old age without enough money to support themselves comfortably.

It also helps explain why the poverty rate among older women is higher than among men: 16% of women are over 65 live in povertycompared to 12% for men of the same age.

401(k) Early Withdrawals and the Impact on Savings


Not being prepared for retirement has consequences not only for individuals and their families, but for the nation as a whole, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. About 56 million private-sector workers lack access to a retirement plan through their employers, contributing to a projected $1.3 trillion shortfall for state and federal governments by 2040, a new study finds found.

“Many of these retiree families are going to need welfare,” John Scott, director of the Retirement Savings Project at the Pew Philanthropic Foundation, said on a conference call Thursday to discuss the study.

For example, older Americans without savings are more likely to use programs like food stamps to stay afloat. And women with children reach their pre-retirement age with less savings than parents or people without children, a study by the Century Foundation found.

Aging without savings

The analysis found that among mothers aged 50 to 64, only 23% have more than $100,000 in retirement savings. In the same age group, about 42% of parents have saved at least that much, while 37% of people without children in that age group have at least $100,000.

Experts say there are ways to fix the retirement system to make it easier for mothers — and others struggling to save — to save for their golden years. For example, automated retirement programs in states can help workers who don’t have access to workplace plans, Pugh noted.

“If you’re an employee who doesn’t have a plan like a 401(k), you’re automatically enrolled in a government savings program,” Scott noted. “If you did nothing, you would automatically enroll and start contributing to an IRA.”

Another idea is to change Social Security so that it financially rewards caregiving. The Social Security Trustees Loan Act, which was introduced by Democrats in 2021, would provide retirement benefits to those who take time off work to care for children, elders or others. But given today’s divided Congress, such efforts are unlikely to move forward.

“On Mother’s Day, when we thank moms for all the work they do, we want to make sure we thank them as a community — and making sure they have financial security in retirement is one way,” Gutierrez said. .

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