Key Takeaways

  • Women's barriers to aging well include health disparities, unequal access to health care and retirement savings, and a disproportionate share of caregiving responsibilities.

  • As women are living longer, they need to consider what longer life will be like for them, including understanding the obstacles that could make achieving financial security in retirement more challenging.

  • A quarter of women over age 40 are caregivers, women typically have put aside half the retirement savings as men, and nearly one in five women have no health care provider.

Women face challenges to their right to age well, including health disparities and unequal access to health care, caregiving responsibilities that can drain health and retirement security, and lower participation in employer-sponsored retirement plans. Women often make less money than men; they often work part time, take time away from work to care for children and aging parents, save less money, work in fields with fewer employer-sponsored retirement benefits, have more chronic diseases with their related costs, and feel less comfortable discussing finances.

Know some key facts about women and aging so you can help be part of the solution.

Women and their access to health care

  • Nearly one in five women have no health care provider.1
  • Overall, 11% of women said they didn’t see a doctor because of the costs. Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native women are most likely to say they didn’t see a doctor due to costs and white women are the least likely.2
  • Almost 3 out of 4 women over the age of 40 have had a mammogram in the past 2 years.3 However:
    • Rural women are less likely to have a mammogram than women living in metropolitan areas.4
    • Lower-income women are also less likely to have had a mammogram compared to higher-income women.5
    • American Indian and Alaska Native women are less likely to receive a screening mammography than Black or white women.6
  • Cardiovascular disease was rated as a top concern in two out of five doctors. Only one out of five primary care physicians and two out of five cardiologists felt extremely well prepared to assess women’s risk of cardiovascular disease.7
  • Approximately 6% of women over the age of 20 have coronary heart disease. Black women are the most likely (7%), and Asian women are the least likely (3%).8

Discrimination against women in health care

  • Nearly half of older Black women said the health care system treats people differently based on their race or ethnicity—nearly one-third of white and Latina women agreed.9
  • More than half of all women said that they believe gender discrimination is a serious problem, compared to one-third of men. One in five women said that a health care provider ignored or dismissed their symptoms, compared with 14% of men. Nearly one in five women said they have been treated differently because of their gender, compared to one in 20 men.10
  • In a study about abdominal pain, although men and women had similar pain scores, men were more likely to receive analgesia—and when women did receive analgesia, they had to wait longer to receive it (65 minutes compared to 49 minutes).11

The exclusion of women in medical research and clinical trials

  • Medical schools and medical research consider a 154-pound, white male the average patient—this means that a white man’s biology has been guiding medicine and treatment options.12
  • Women were excluded from clinical trials for years to protect them and their fetuses from the side effects.10

Women in work and retirement

  • According to research conducted by NCOA, women, on average, reported that they retire at 64 years old.13
  • A study by TransAmerica Institute found that men (33%) are more likely than women (22%) to expect to retire before age 65. And 16% of women said they have no plans of retirement.14
  • Men and women say that they expect to need $500,000 (median) by the time they retire in order to retire with financial security. Women, on average have $57,000 saved for retirement, compared to men with $118,000.14
  • Women are more likely to say that they need help with retirement planning. One in three women said that they would like help planning how to age in place, significantly more than the one in four men who said they needed help.13
  • In 2022, the uncontrolled gender pay gap was $0.82 for every $1 that men made. The average age women start saving for retirement is 28 years old, whereas men start saving a year earlier, at 27.15
  • Approximately 34% of women and 25% of men who are over the age of 50 are very or somewhat worried about their current financial situations. Women are who divorced, separated, or widowed are even more concerned (41%).16
  • Women (42%) are also more worried than men (35%) about the future of Social Security.14
  • Women are more likely to work part-time jobs and therefore less likely to have an employer-sponsored retirement plan;17 68% of women are offered an employee-sponsored retirement plan, compared to 80% of men.14

Women as caregivers

  • A quarter of women over the age of 40 are caregivers, 32% of Hispanic women are caregivers, 26% of Black women are caregivers, 24% of white women are caregivers, and 21% of Asian women are caregivers.18
  • Women take more time away from work to be a caregiver—for children and adult family members. 58% of long-term caregivers are females.17
  • Although nearly 3 out of 5 Americans say that men and women can do an equally good job at being a caregiver, 40% say that women are better at caregiving, and only 1% say that men are better.19
  • Nearly half of caregivers have to use their personal savings, cut back on their spending, or reduce the amount they are saving for retirement due to their caregiving responsibilities.20
  • Women over the age of 50 with a healthy spouse had a median retirement savings balance of $104,547. Women over the age of 50 with a disabled spouse had a median retirement savings balance of $60,835.21
  • Women under the age of 50 who had financially dependent parents had a median retirement savings of $16,000. Women without dependent parents had saved $24,980.21 
  • Caregivers are less likely to participate in a 401K, and if they do participate, they contribute less.21
  • Hispanic and African American caregivers have a higher financial strain than white or Asian American caregivers. Hispanic and Asian American women have a higher financial strain than males.20
  • Female caregivers are less likely to seek medical care, refill prescriptions, or exercise. They also have an increased risk of coronary heart disease, elevated blood pressure, hypertension, and reduced immune function.22

NCOA's role in improving the lives of older adults

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is proud to champion the rights of older Americans—especially women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, people with low income, and those living in rural areas. We believe every person deserves to age well, and we’re on a path to improve the lives of 40 million older adults by 2030. We will accomplish this by:

  • Helping the voices of the vulnerable be heard so every older adult has the opportunity for healthy aging regardless of gender, color, sexuality, income, or ZIP code.
  • Advocating for public policy change that supports all older adults, particularly those who are struggling, as well as the caregivers and community organizations that serve them. 
  • Empowering older adults to take charge of their own well-being by practicing falls prevention, chronic disease self-management, and mental health and wellness strategies.
  • Connecting older Americans with quality health care services that meet their needs, including affordable prescription drugs, dental care, and long-term services and supports.
  • Promoting awareness of and access to tools, resources, and knowledge that help all older adults age with dignity. This includes money-saving benefits, job training, and money management tips.

Sources

1. Kaiser Family Foundation. State Health Facts. Women Who Report Having No Personal Doctor/Health Care Provider by Race/Ethnicity. Timeframe: 2021. Found on the internet at https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/state-indicator/women-report-no-personal-doctor-by-race-ethnicity/

2. Kaiser Family Foundation. State Health Facts. Women Who Report Not Seeing a Doctor in the Past 12 Months Due to Cost by Race/Ethnicity. Timeframe: 2021. Found on the internet at https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/state-indicator/women-who-did-not-see-a-doctor-in-the-past-12-months-due-to-cost-by-race-ethnicity/

3. Kaiser Family Foundation. State Health Facts. Women Age 40 and Older Who Report Having Had a Mammogram Within the Past Two Years by Race/Ethnicity. Timeframe: 2021. Found on the internet at https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/state-indicator/mammogram-rate-for-women-40-years/

4. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Committee on Healthcare for Underserved Women. Health Disparities for Rural Women. February 2014. Found on the internet at https://www.acog.org/-/media/project/acog/acogorg/clinical/files/committee-opinion/articles/2014/02/health-disparities-in-rural-women.pdf

5. The Commonwealth Fund. Why Even Healthy Low-Income People Have Higher Health Risks Than Higher-Income People. Sept. 27, 2018. Found on the internet at https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2018/healthy-low-income-people-greater-health-risks

6. Susan G. Komen. Breast Cancer Statistics. Found on the internet at https://www.komen.org/breast-cancer/facts-statistics/breast-cancer-statistics/

7. C. Noel Bairey Merz, et al. Knowledge, Attitudes, and Beliefs Regarding Cardiovascular Disease in Women: The Women's Heart Alliance. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. July 11, 2017. Found on the internet at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109717374077

8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women and Heart Disease. Found on the internet at https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/women.htm

9. Michelle M. Doty, et al. How Discrimination in Health Care Affects Older Americans, and What Health Systems and Providers Can Do. The Commonwealth Fund. April 21, 2022. Found on the internet at https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2022/apr/how-discrimination-in-health-care-affects-older-americans

10. Emily Paulsen. Recognizing, Addressing Unintended Gender Bias in Patient Care. Duke Health. Jan. 14, 2020. Found on the internet at https://physicians.dukehealth.org/articles/recognizing-addressing-unintended-gender-bias-patient-care

11. Esther H. Chen, et al. Gender disparity in analgesic treatment of emergency department patients with acute abdominal pain. Academic Emergency Medicine. May 2008. Found on the internet at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18439195/

12. Candy Sagon. The Gender Bias of Medicine. AARP Bulletin. January/February 2017. Found on the internet at https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2016/womens-health-gender-bias-cs.html

13. National Council on Aging. Women Living in an Preparing for Retirement. March 2022. Found on the internet at https://preview.ncoa.org/article/women-and-retirement-when-they-retire-how-they-plan-and-where-help-is-needed

14. TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies. Life in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Women's Health, Finances and Retirement Outlook. October 2021. Found on the internet at https://transamericainstitute.org/docs/default-source/research/women-retirement-security-report.pdf

15. Payscale. 2022 State of the Gender Pay Gap Report. Found on the internet at https://www.payscale.com/research-and-insights/gender-pay-gap/

16. AARP. Trends in AARP Research on Women. Found on the internet at https://www.aarp.org/research/topics/life/info-2022/aarp-research-women-trends.html

17. Tiffany Boiman and Ali Khawar. 5 Things to Know About Women and Retirement. U.S. Department of Labor Blog. Aug. 30, 2021. Found on the internet at https://blog.dol.gov/2021/08/30/5-things-to-know-about-women-and-retirement

18. AARP. Women, Work, and the Road to Resilience: Working Women at Midlife and Beyond. 2021. Found on the internet at https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/econ/2021/midcareer-older-women-workers-report.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00488.001.pdf

19. Juliana Horowitz, et al. American Widely Support Paid Family Leave, But Differ Over Specific Policies. Pew Research Center. March 23, 2017. Found on the internet at https://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2017/03/22152556/Paid-Leave-Report-3-17-17-FINAL.pdf

20. AARP. Caregiving Out-of-Pocket Costs Study. June 2021. Found on the internet at https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/ltc/2021/family-caregivers-cost-survey-2021.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00473.001.pdf

21. Tyler Bond, et al. Still Shortchanged: An Update on Women's Retirement Preparedness. National Institute on Retirement Security. May 2020. Found on the internet at https://www.nirsonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Still-Shortchanged-Final.pdf

22. Christina Best. How Caregiving Affects Women's Health. HomeCare. March 1, 2019. Found on the internet at https://www.homecaremag.com/aging-place/march-2019/how-caregiving-affects-womens-health