When I begin work on a new project, I like to start by researching the relevant facts.  For example, when I signed up for tennis lessons several years ago, I read up on what the lines on the court mean (note to self: reading about the rules of tennis and hitting the ball so it lands in the right place are two very different things).

Lately, I’ve come across some scary headlines about women and money and it got me thinking: where do women really stand when it comes to our money (and our health, given how closely those are aligned)?

I decided to dig into the research and answer a few of the questions I had (and that you might have too).  Here is what I learned.

What Do Women Earn?  How Much Are We Saving?

Based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor, the median earnings for women in the U.S. is low: $780 per week in the second quarter of 2018.  This translates into annual earnings of $40,560.  The median earning for men is higher, not surprisingly, but still pretty low: $959 (or $49,868 annually).

Chart of weekly earnings of women in the men in the U.S. in 2018

To state the obvious, median incomes at this level—and “median” means half of full-time workers are earning more and half are earning less (yikes!)—make putting money aside for longer term goals such as retirement very, very difficult.

Other data support this conclusion.  According to the results of the 18th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey, 21% of women reported that their greatest financial priority right now was just covering their basic living expenses.

This same survey found a median retirement savings of $42,000 among women (the median retirement savings reported by men was $123,000).

Graph of retirement savings reported by women

As you can see, most women—52%—reported either less than $50,000 saved or that they weren’t sure how much they had saved (which I don’t think is a good sign that they have a lot saved).

So far, the scary headlines are seeming perhaps not scary enough.

Are Women Participating in the Workforce? What Jobs Are Women Most Likely to Hold?

According to the Department of Labor, most women of all races between the ages of 20 and 64 are participating in the workforce.

Women participating in the workforce, by race and age

As for types of occupation, most women hold jobs the Department of Labor classifies as “Professional” which could mean anything from computer science and law, to education and healthcare.

Types of occupations women hold

Can you guess where on this spectrum of “professional” jobs women land?  Education and healthcare.

“Across all occupational categories, the three most common jobs for women were elementary and middle school teacher ($981), registered nurse ($1,143), and secretary or administrative assistant ($708). Each of these occupations employed more than 2 million women in 2016, collectively representing 13 percent of women in full-time wage and salary jobs.”

How Much Student Loan Debt Do Women Carry?

These were the questions and answers about women and money that most intrigued me. Sadly, the news isn't great. #WomenandRetirement #CanIRetire #GoodLifeBetter

Women now earn more academic degrees than men and we have the added student loan debt to show for it.

According to a report by the American Association of University Women, “women hold nearly two-thirds of the outstanding student debt in the United States—almost $900 billion as of mid-2018.”

This is a big deal because we earn less which translates into us having a harder time making loan repayments and taking longer to pay off our debt.

The Transamerica Survey backs this up.  While women and men report having debt at about the same level (88% of women versus 85% of men), 24% of women report student loan debt while only 16% of men do.

Are Women Married? Single? Partnered?

The U.S. Census provides loads of data—almost too much—but it isn’t always easy to interpret it to answer the question of how many women are single or partnered (it does better on the married question).  Here is how I understand the 2017 data:

  • That year, there were 35.3 million one-person households and the majority were headed by women (19.5 million).
  • There were an additional 6.6 million two-person households where the members were not related by blood or marriage.  Of these, 2.8 were headed by women.
  • There were 82.8 million households that included two or more people who were related.  Of these, 60.8 million included a married couple where both spouses were present.  An additional 12.3 million households had only one spouse present (due to divorce, separation, death, etc.).
  • The remaining households that included two or more people who were related—9.7 million—were headed by people who had never been married and of this number, women again made up the majority (6.4 million).

What I take away from this data is that most U.S. households are still headed by a married couple.  But there are a lot that aren’t and a majority of those are headed by women: 19.5 million single-person households and 18.9 million households with more than one person living in them, either related or unrelated.

At What Age Do Women Want to Retire?

Given the median retirement savings noted above, you could probably accuse some of the women surveyed as part of the Transamerica Survey as being a wee bit optimistic when it comes to how old they will be when they retire (although I firmly believe by earning and saving more and cutting our expenses we can retire at a reasonable age).

Age at which women want to retire

The 13% who never expect to retire is heart-breaking.

How’s Our Health?  Are We Insured?

Based on result of the Transamerica Survey, women are doing okay when it comes to engaging in health-related behaviors but we could do better.

  • 54% report getting routine physicals
  • 57% report eating healthy
  • 50% report exercising regularly
  • 44% report managing stress.

Nearly one in five of us, however, report being in only fair or poor health status: 18.6% according to data from the CDC.

A significant number of us are also still uninsured.  Based on 2016 data, 11% of women do not have health insurance.

Insurance status of women in 2016

Are Women in the U.S. Happy?

I know what you’re thinking—how the heck is Jenny going to answer this one?  Turns out there is a survey conducted by the University of Chicago called the General Social Survey that asks this very question.  Based on the most recent data available, most women report being pretty or very happy:

  • 30% answered very happy
  • 55% answered pretty happy
  • and 15% reported not too happy.

On this one, I count myself among the majority.

What Do You Think? Are the Scary Headlines Justified?

I wish I could say this deep dive into the facts has made me feel better about the current status of women and money but I’m not so sure.  Let me know your thoughts about these questions and answers about women and money in the comment section below.

The headlines are scary--but do they reflect the facts? Sadly, they most often do. Here are the questions and answers about women and money I wanted answered. #WomenandMoney #RetirementFacts #GoodLifeBetter

10 Questions (and Answers!) about Women and Money


  1. Sobering numbers, and exactly why it’s so important for us to talk money. Hopefully the more we can show there are quite a few of us women who do know something, the more we can pull everyone along to a more secure future.

    • goodlifebetter Reply

      I am hopeful. There are lots of systemic problems that will take time, but there are other things individuals, families, and communities can do in the mean time. Can’t not work on the systems stuff, though.

  2. I agree with you that the 13% who never expect to retire is heart-breaking. Additionally, the 40% who said not until after 65 is also upsetting.

    Thanks for this research. We gotta know it before we can change it.

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