The 401(k) gender gap widens

But which gender is saving more? The answer may surprise you.

By Bloomberg News

Dec 1, 2014 @ 7:23 pm EST

Even though men make $1 to a woman's 77 cents, women were the bigger savers over the past 12 months.

For men and women with similar salaries, up to the $150,000 mark, the women have more money in their 401(k) on average, according to new data from Fidelity Investments.

Women earning between $20,000 and $40,000, for example, have saved an average of $17,300 in their 401(k), as of the year ended Sept. 30, 2014. Men in that income range have an average of $15,200 in their account. Fidelity's data are based on 13 million accounts.

One reason for the gap is simple: Women joined their employer's retirement plan at higher rates, on average, in 2013 than men making comparable salaries. And they contributed 6% to 12% more, on average, than men, according to separate figures from Vanguard Group Inc.

See How Women Prepare To Retire Rich

If you remove the income filter and just look at gender, though, women have less saved than men. Their 401(k)s hold $73,100 on average, compared with $108,800 for men.

That difference is less about women and their savings habits than it is about women and wages. The average female worker in the U.S. makes less than her male counterpart, and so has less money to defer in retirement accounts. Women also are likelier to have fewer years in the workforce because of taking time out to care for children.

Those realities may account for the salary level where women's savings advantage evaporates. Once the salaries of men and women exceed $150,000, men pull ahead, the Fidelity data show.

Men making below $150,000 may want to save more to close that gender gap. But women having bigger balances than male co-workers is a very good thing, for a very practical reason. Women who reach the age pf 65 can expect to live until age 86, on average, or about two years longer than men. So their 401(k) dollars need to last longer.

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