Gender Disconnect

Solving A Retirement Confidence Crisis

Why are women feeling overwhelmed?

by Sharon Scanlon

Ms. Scanlon is Senior Vice President, Head of Customer Experience, for Lincoln Financial Group’s Life and Annuity Operations and Retirement Plan Services businesses. She leads a team that is focused on blending high-touch and high-tech experiences with strategy and omni-channel solutions to drive positive outcomes for Lincoln Financial Group customers. Lincoln Financial Group is the marketing name for Lincoln National Corporation (NYSE:LNC) and its affiliates. Visit

While change has seemed constant over the past several months, one thing has remained relatively steady — Americans’ confidence about retirement. Lincoln Financial’s Consumer Retirement Index (CRI) shows that despite the evolving COVID-19 situation and ongoing market volatility, about a quarter of Americans continue to say they are “very confident” about retirement.

That CRI confidence measure comes from how people between the ages of 18 and 64 feel about three things:

  • Being able to accumulate enough money to retire when they want
  • Being able to convert savings into retirement income that will last for their lifetime
  • Having enough money to maintain their lifestyle in retirement

And while we would like to see all Americans feel more confident about their financial futures, we have an even bigger opportunity when looking at women’s retirement confidence.

Women’s Retirement Confidence

As market volatility increased, we moved from measuring the CRI monthly to every two weeks starting in March 2020. In February of 2020, prior to the beginning of the evolving COVID-19 situation, a quarter of Americans were confident about retirement. It has fluctuated since then, but not as much as expected.

Since February of 2020, when the confidence level was 25%, we have seen it as low as 22% in the beginning of April, and as high as 28% in May, following the stimulus checks that were issued. But in each survey, men are consistently more confident than women, with 32% of men and 23% of women saying they were confident about retirement in the June CRI survey.

This disparity is consistent with other research. In early 2020 we asked Americans to rate their performance saving for retirement in the past year. Nearly half of men feel that they are at the top of the class — 44% of men gave themselves an “A” or “B” grade, compared to 39% of women.1

The lack of confidence for women could be strictly pragmatic, as they often have a lower account balance. Compared to men, women are half as likely to have $250K or more saved for retirement in their current employer’s plan. And, when asked to estimate how much they should be saving for retirement, 29% of women said they don’t know how much to save. Of those who do have an idea of how much they should be saving, 64% of women are saving less than what they think they need to save to be on track for retirement.2

Given the fact that most women are saving less than they think they need to and some women don’t even know how much they should strive to save, it’s not surprising confidence is so low. However, a lack of confidence is only part of the story. Our research also finds that thinking about retirement is tied to negative emotions for many women. When asked how they feel about retirement, 41% of women gave only negative responses — “overwhelmed” and “anxious” were two of the top three feelings among women. 2

Tools like retirement income estimators and savings calculators can help women, and all savers, understand how their saving rate will translate into income in retirement — and help them visualize how saving even slightly more now can have a big impact on their future...

But there are strong reasons that women should feel optimistic about their retirement, including the fact that 18% of women are saving the maximum amount in their workplace plan, which is nearly equal to the number of men (20%) who are maxing out their savings.2

Goals And Education Can Increase Confidence

We have the opportunity to help women, and all Americans, become more confident about their retirement, and it starts with setting a goal. Women are less likely to have a specific goal for retirement savings and are also less likely to have a specific financial savings goal for something other than retirement.

Setting a goal seems so simple, but it can have a significant positive impact on savings rates and confidence. Compared to people who did not set a goal, individuals who have identified how much they want to save for retirement in a year are three times more likely to contribute 15% or more to their plan, have a median deferral rate that is more than twice as high and are nearly one and a half times more confident.2

We can also help by ensuring that we are providing the education participants need to feel empowered. The top three topics women say they wish they better understood are what investments to choose, how to manage investments and how to save. Some of these can be easily addressed by helping savers understand target date portfolios, particularly portfolios that are constructed to align to different risk tolerances and not just their expected retirement year.

Tools like retirement income estimators and savings calculators can help women, and all savers, understand how their saving rate will translate into income in retirement — and help them visualize how saving even slightly more now can have a big impact on their future.

Why The Gender Disconnect?

Women also want to know more about if their savings are on track and how to budget. There’s a need for us to help savers create a holistic picture of their finances. A financial advisor can help paint that picture, and help people understand how their savings will translate to income in retirement, as well as identify the need for additional coverages, like life insurance or long-term care coverage. This aligns with the overall need we are seeing for financial wellness tools and support — which is something we as an industry are well-positioned to support.

The overall lack of confidence in retirement, and specifically the disconnect between men and women, doesn’t have to exist. Employer-sponsored retirement plans are only going to become more important, and as an industry we will continue to innovate and evolve, to ensure we are meeting the needs of American savers. But in order to fully support them, we need to help them tackle what they don’t understand, thorough education and robust financial wellness tools.

If we do that, we will truly be able to move the needle on retirement confidence — where more than just a quarter of Americans are confident about retirement. With our support and guidance, we can help savers achieve the retirement they envision.




1 2020 Personal Finance Pulse, Lincoln Financial and CivicScience
2 2019 Lincoln Retirement Power® Participant Study