Three Ways to Help Close the Financial Gender Gap

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This summer was both hot and revealing - especially about women and their money. Here are the latest dollar figures that separate the sexes, and what women can do about it.

Almost everyone knows women live longer than men – about 5-10 years longer – and that they’re often paid less than men. But fortunately, both gaps are closing. Let’s talk about the financial ones.

Lost in all the gloom-and-doom economic news this summer was a report by the U.S. Department of Labor called “Highlights of Women’s Earnings in 2009” [PDF]. It had some interesting things to say about where women stand in the workforce. For example, “In 2009, women who were full-time wage and salary workers had median weekly earnings of $657, or about 80 percent of the $819 median for their male counterparts.”

So there’s still a 20-percent gap between men and women’s earnings – but that’s better than in 1979, when the government began to keep track of these things. Back then, women earned only 62 percent as much as men.

The 90-page report makes for dry reading, but here are the three big lessons we gleaned from it…

  1. Relocate. Women who want to be paid as much as men need to move – to Washington, D.C., where full-time working women are paid 96.5 of what men are paid. California is next at 88.7 percent. You can see a state-by-state breakdown here. By and large, small southern states are the worst for equal pay, while big northern states are better.
  2. Reduce. Want to get paid more than the guys? Work part-time. Women who work half-time to nearly-but-not-quite full-time actually make more than their fellow male workers. Women who work 30-39 hours make 107 percent that of men working the same hours. Why? According to the report, because more women work part-time, especially mothers – which means they’ve been in those jobs longer, mastered them, and have been rewarded for them.
  3. Regress. Start working young. That 80-percent figure is just an average. Turns out, women over 35 make only 75 percent as much as their male peers, while women 20-24 make 93 percent as much. That bodes well for the future, doesn’t it?

Insuring success

Not only do women get paid less than men, they’re also insured less than they are. A new study by insurance company MetLife shows that “a gender gap in life insurance coverage exists between working, married men, and women with children under the age of 18.” Turns out married men with minor children have, on average, five times their annual household income in life insurance coverage. But married women with minor children have, on average, only three times their annual household income in coverage.

“It’s concerning to see the income of working mothers is not as adequately protected as that of their male counterparts,” says Bill Raczko, a MetLife senior vice president.

It’s a problem because the death of a working parent doesn’t just end their life and their income – it can put the brakes on a family’s source of health insurance, tuition assistance, and other financial benefits. So why is there such a gap?

“The study found that only half as many mothers as fathers consult with anyone about their personal financial matters,” says Steven Weisbart, senior vice president and chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute, a lobbying association for the insurance industry.

Here are three pieces of sound – albeit self-serving – advice from both Metlife and the Insurance Information Institute…

  1. Don’t be shy. Women are less likely to discuss their finances with anyone, even their partners. But such discussions can save you lots of money, especially when it comes to insurance. Are you sure you have enough coverage for our family. Does some of that coverage overlap, making it unnecessary?
  2. Start at work. Many employers offer a group life program. Even if you have to pay some or all of the premium yourself, getting coverage in the workplace comes with perks: discounted group rates, limited or no medical underwriting, convenient payroll deduction, and easy enrollment.
  3. Add on. Your employer might allow you to buy cheap supplemental life insurance during the fall open enrollment. Check now, because that time might already be here.

As for saving on life insurance in general, we’ve written about that before – and the advice is good for both sexes.

Stacy Johnson

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