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Speakers offer advice on financial security and wealth building for women

Commission on the Status of Women event promotes planning ahead for retirement and sharing intergenerational wisdom

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Photo via Pixabay

LOUISVILLE — Women should consider their life expectancy — and the fact that they tend to live longer than men do — when thinking about and planning for their financial futures.

Those were some of the takeaways from “Empowering Older Women as Consumers,” a virtual event held in conjunction with the 68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The March CSW68 summit included delegates from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterian Women as well as women from around the world.

The empowerment webinar was among the scores of parallel events held in person and online during CSW68. It featured Dr. Suzanne Shu, a Cornell University marketing professor in the SC Johnson College of Business, and Dr. Charlene Dadzie, an associate professor of marketing and quantitative methods in the Mitchell College of Business at the University of South Alabama.

Shu, a faculty research fellow with the National Bureau of Economic Research, used a life expectancy tool to provide an estimate of how many years a 65-year-old woman might need to plan ahead for. Though the hypothetical woman’s expected age of death is 87, “this woman has a probability of living to age 90 of 40%,” and could live past 100, Shu said during the webinar, which was sponsored by the International Association for Gerontology and Geriatrics and the NGO Committee on Ageing.

With those statistics in mind, “she needs to be planning for a retirement or a time without income, really, of 30, 40 years, and that’s a long time to try to survive on either the safety nets or on retirement savings,” Shu said. “What are you going to do when you’re 100 years old? Where are you going to live? Where’s your income going to come from? Do you have family that’s going to be there to provide support? … If she has one, her husband may or may not be thinking that far ahead because his own life expectancy is much shorter.”

Dr. Suzanne Shu

Shu lamented that more women don’t feel confident to make decisions about investing and other financial topics that can affect their futures.

“For generations, women have handled household bank accounts and spending and budgets and things like that, and they’re entrepreneurs and they can run small businesses, and yet, if you ask them, ‘Do you want to sit down and figure out what to do with your investments or your retirement planning?,’ a lot of women will, again, defer to a spouse or defer to someone else and feel like they’re not competent to do that,” Shu said. “And that, to me, is a tragedy because I absolutely know that they can do that.”

Though attitudes are changing among some of the younger generations, “I think there’s still this persistent undercurrent, especially for the women who are facing retirement right now, that they just don’t feel like they’re comfortable with those decisions,” Shu said.

Being knowledgeable and talking through scenarios and tradeoffs is important because wrong decisions can be costly. There are choices to be made even when it comes to Social Security.

“Most people don’t delay their claiming (of Social Security); they claim as soon as they’re able to, which financially turns out to not always be a very good idea because it cuts back your benefits pretty significantly, probably by more than half of what your full benefits could be,” Shu said.

She also touched on life annuities. “There’s a lot of work in economics suggesting that these are a great tool, a great financial product, for women who have long life expectancies,” Shu said.

However, she didn’t promote anything as a one-size-fits-all solution. “We really want to tailor the recommendations and the feedback based on the needs of that individual,” she said.

Dadzie’s portion of the event was more internationally focused on places such as Ghana and the Global South in general. For example, she described how women in Ghana often make money by selling prepared foods or other items, such as bottled water or pastry, on the street. There, as in other developing countries, the women may lack strong health care infrastructure and don’t necessarily have access to retirement or social service pensions as they get older, she said.

However, women in such areas often have strong social networks to help counter challenges, and may be able to tap into helpful tools, such as rotating savings and credit associations (ROSCAs), which are founded on the basis of community collaboration, and mobile banking services.

Dr. Charlene Didzie

“Through the use of mobile phones, women in rural areas are able to send money, to receive money, and conduct transactions at a rate that is higher compared to prior to this digital revolution, where doing a payment transaction in a bank would be something that could be very foreign or even intimidating,” Dadzie said. “Mobile banking has been and kind of continues to be an area of opportunity.”

There also are opportunities when it comes to entrepreneurship, she said, citing the success of shea butter processing cooperatives in northern Ghana.

Looking to the future, Dadzie stressed the importance of sharing intergenerational wisdom about issues and best practices. She noted that older women with knowledge that’s been passed down may be the ones who know how to deal with changes in the soil or climate in a farming area.

There should be “younger women working with older women sharing skills and experiences but continuing basically to have these community stores of knowledge where younger women get information from older women and vice-versa, so that social connections are increased and continue,” she said.

Dadzie also touched on the importance of providing equal pay for equal work, giving loans and grants to women, and harnessing global funds for women’s advancement at the local level.

“I think the key opportunity here is focused on resource endowments for women, local knowledge, their own capabilities and strengths, and then civil society and governments can be the ones that help foster communities for these purposes,” Dadzie said.

In a call to action for empowering older women, she offered these suggestions:

  • Support educational programs and initiatives that empower older women through knowledge and skills development.
  • Engage in community activities that honor and uplift the voices and contributions of older women.
  • Advocate for policies and regulations that promote the rights and well-being of older women on a global scale.
  • Offer mentorship and support to older women, sharing skills and experiences to empower and inspire.

To watch the full recording, go here

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