Women live longer. Can they afford it?

After a career in design that included restoring furniture and textiles for nine presidents, Iris Apfel became a fashion icon in her 80s. This isn’t a commentary on how to live out one’s retired years (some may air-quote that term). It’s to drive home the point that she lived – really lived -- to 102. According to recent estimates, there are more than 8 million Irises in the U.S.1 – women who are living past the female life expectancy of 79.3 years, which is about five more than men. What does that look like in terms of cost? It’s estimated the average woman would need an additional $120,000 to fund those extra years.2

Living longer should be a good thing. And it can be with the right tools – for both getting to retirement and getting through retirement.

If you’re a woman in the workforce, you’ve memorized the headlines: An average $0.84 earned to every man’s dollar; the caregiver role that often pauses careers -- and paychecks. It’s hard to overcome the effects of wage gaps, especially as investing compounds over time: We find that women’s 401(k) retirement balances are often 30% lower than men’s.3

It’s wealth-building blows like these that may be why 40% of women in a recent EBRI survey said they’re not confident they’re doing a good job preparing financially for retirement – and 71% said preparing for it makes them feel stressed (compared to 56% of men).4 They’ve got those extra years to think about, after all, and so it’s not surprising that women also are more likely than men to say they’re not confident they’ll have enough money to last their entire life. (Did we mention the number one financial fear is outliving one’s savings?)5

Employers can take the lead on this one, helping workers convert their savings into an income stream they won’t outlive. We find that if they had access to a guaranteed retirement income solution within their retirement plan, their retirement spending could potentially increase an average of 22%.6 That’s a lot of distinct eyewear (one of Iris’ signatures), or whatever you enjoy.

On International Women’s Day, Anne Ackerley, head of BlackRock’s Retirement Group, talked about the women who inspire her. “My mom, maybe not a business leader, but somebody who widowed young, worked really hard, and told me I could do whatever I wanted to do.” A retired educator with a pension, she sent Anne a note: “Annie,” it reads, “just a reminder to not forget about us teachers.”

Over the past 30 years, the pension has largely slipped away. But the need for guaranteed forms of retirement income certainly hasn’t. Women should feel secure in knowing that when work stops, financial security doesn’t have to.