How women are pioneering the future of retirement

Women are the lifestyle leaders inventing the future of retirement. For a variety of reasons, women are generally better at aging than men. They are more dynamic, take on more roles and duties, and are more clear-sighted in regard to the new frontier of longevity—and they also live longer. As I write in my new book, The Longevity Economy, when it comes to older age and innovation, the future is female.

At the same time, there are certain retirement challenges which women will have to contend with in an era of longevity that their counterparts may have the privilege of avoiding. As a mixed sort of celebration of International Women’s Day, here are three retirement realities for women (and for the companies that serve them):

Women are the chief consumer officers

Despite being more than half of the population, women are not always looked to by firms trying to understand market demands or how money will be spent in retirement. Women are the biggest players in the longevity economy, and their power as consumers remains largely overlooked. Their influence comes from the fact that they make choices not only for themselves, but often for a child, spouse or parent. They are most likely to be the chief consumer officer of the household. 80% of healthcare decisions are made by women; 54% of online purchases are made by women; in the technology sphere, women are still a few percentage points behind, at 46%, but are gaining ground fast.

When companies attempt to cater to females, they often wind up doing ridiculous things for which they have to apologize shortly afterward. Abysmal ideas like the “For Her” pen, the “Femme” tablet, and recent rumblings of a lady-friendly corn chip makes one wonder if companies think that women are a different (and seemingly helpless) species.

Even when they are not doing the buying themselves, women might be the most influential force behind a purchasing decisions. 54% of automobiles are bought by men; but 80% of automobile purchases are influenced by women. It is not only ethically imperative for businesses to take seriously the preferences and needs of women; it is also a smart business move. The role of chief consumer officer that women hold across the lifespan makes them particularly attuned to the everyday costs of living in retirement—small costs that can add up to a big financial load in the long-run.

Women are the caregiver corps

Part of the outsized heft of women as consumers, particularly in healthcare, is that they are far more likely to be caregivers than men. Statistically speaking, women are unhappiest in their early to mid-forties. Why? This is the time in their lives when their burdens are greatest: they are typically at the highest pressure-point in their careers, in the midst of raising children, and often providing care to an aging parent.

It is that last item that most tends to be ignored. But caregiving is primarily a woman’s game: 66% of caregivers are female. Even when a male spouse or sibling pitches in to help, he often only does a fraction of the work of his female counterpart. The value of unpaid, informal care by women ranges from $148 billion to $188 billion annually.

As caregivers for elderly parents, women are most likely to get a glimpse at the part of retirement not captured in financial advisory brochures. The experience of caregiving seems to provide a certain sanguinity when thinking about older age and retirement. In an MIT AgeLab study*, when women and men were asked to think about their hopes and fears of life after 65, men were more focused on the rewards they hoped to receive in retirement—vacations, leisure, relaxation, etc.—while women focused on the process of aging successfully, thinking more about mortgages, investments, savings, finance, etc.

Living solo: women make it on their own

Many women will spend a significant part of their older age living by themselves. 32% of women aged 65 or older live alone, compared to 18% of older men. The reason for this is twofold. Women, especially college-educated women, live longer than men on average. What’s more, the post-age-50 divorce rate in the U.S. and Canada has skyrocketed in the last couple decades—with divorces most often initiated by the female spouse. Many female divorcees prefer to remain single, with little interest in taking on stewardship, as it were, of a new husband. In interviews I have conducted exploring emerging lifestyles in retirement, I have found it is not uncommon to hear a newly divorced woman say that she neither wishes to be a “nurse nor a purse.”

The challenge of living solo—and living longer generally—is making sure one has the functional and social support to deal with the inevitable frictions that come with older age. Simply put, money is not enough; access to the services and trusted providers that are necessary to age well is the demand of women living in retirement.

For us as individuals, and particularly for women, that means thinking about planning for retirement differently, not only as a process of saving money but also of securing the secondary resources that allow us to truly age well. For financial professionals who are in the business of helping people plan for retirement, it is important to understand the unique roles that many women occupy across the life course, as chief consumer officers, as caregivers, and as solo travelers in later older age. The future is female: women are the ones hacking the new retirement; they are the pioneers on the longevity economy frontier.

This article was written by Joseph Coughlin from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to