Why wives should take the lead in retirement planning

Women are better suited to lead household financial planning, given a few key facts about how they invest

By Bloomberg News

Jun 4, 2015 @ 1:53 pm EST

It's high season for nuptials, and newlyweds-to-be are better focused on wedding plans than retirement plans. Fair enough. But there's an additional, important vow for new husbands to consider post-honeymoon: Thou shalt look to thy wife to drive retirement planning.

If that sound sexist, it's not. In many cases, it's just smart financial planning, given a few key retirement facts:


From a practical standpoint, the "till death do us part" wedding vow often has a brutal coda: "Until, I, your husband, die first." Fifty-two percent of women between the ages of 75 and 84 are widowed, compared to 17% of men, according to the Society of Actuaries. Among the 65-to-74 crowd, 26% of women are widowed, and 8% of men have lost their spouse.

With women more likely to need retirement income to last longer, it makes a lot of sense for them to head a couple's retirement planning. David Littell, director of retirement income planning at the American College, says a common lament he hears from advisers is that couples don't think through strategies that will provide the most security for the surviving spouse.


Retirement planning is an excruciatingly hard exercise in delayed gratification. Some studies show that women are more naturally inclined to be long-term thinkers. When Russell Investments asked 343 financial advisers which gender tends to have more of a long-term planning focus, women won by 56% to 5%. (The remainder said it was a tossup.)


Fifteen years ago, economists Brad Barber and Terrance Odean scoured the investment accounts of more than 35,000 households for trading data. They found that men traded nearly 50% more frequently than women, and they pointed to overconfidence as a behavioral tic of male investors. The kicker: The researchers also found that the net return for the men in the study was nearly 1 percentage point lower than for women.

More recently, robo-advisory Betterment noted that in the two years leading up to early January 2014, men tended to check their portfolios 45% more frequently than women did. Men also changed their allocations 20% more often than women. That's not best practice for patient buy-and-hold success, and trying to time the market has a notoriously bad record. And when clients strayed from Betterment's suggested asset allocation, a higher percentage of those adopting a riskier asset mix were men.

The flip side: Studies also show that women can be overly conservative investors. So while women in traditional marriages may be the logical choice to lead retirement planning, putting both brains to work can produce the best results.

Join the Discussion

Most Popular

Affluence Influencers