When I was a teenager, my mother gave me advice about finding a man. “That’s nice if he’s good-looking and you love him,” she said, “but make sure he is smart. If he’s smart, you’ll have smart children, and he’ll be able to get a good job and support the family.”
Was this my mother’s version of marrying for money, not love?
My mother died two months after my wedding, but she lived long enough to see her advice come to fruition: I married a smart man who came with a very smart daughter. Despite that, I had always felt my mother’s advice was antiquated. Nearly seven years ago, I married my husband for love (his good looks didn’t hurt), and money had nothing to do with it. At 39, I had already become financially independent through climbing the corporate ladder, using retirement accounts to shield as much as my income as possible from taxes and actively managing my investments so they would grow. I recognize I’m in the minority of American women who feels financially empowered. I know what my skills and talents are worth in the business marketplace, and I feel confident that I’ll be able manage my assets throughout retirement and not outlive my money (with or without my husband). But after reviewing the data on women’s salaries and retirement account balances three decades after she made her remarks, my mom seems wiser than ever. Not only are women on average still paid less than men for the same work, but women have significantly less saved for retirement than men.
Paid Less, with Less Saved
A recent Vanguard study finds that although women tend to invest a higher percentage of their income than men in their 401(k), their male counterparts often end up with higher balances as retirement approaches. The average 401(k) balance for the men surveyed was $121,201 — but only $78,007 for women. (Though the wealthy folks at the high end are apparently skewing that in a far too optimistic direction for both genders. The median numbers — half of those survey have more, half have less — are just $38,543 for men, and $25,737 for women. The gaps, though are fairly proportional.) In terms of retirement assets, the wage gap plays a significant role, confirms Nicole Mayer, an accredited investment fiduciary and certified divorce financial analyst at RPG – Life Transition Specialists. Although he later apologized for his gaffe about women not having to ask for raises, Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Satya Nadella’s recent comments reminded everyone that women on average make 23 percent less than men. “Women still earn less than 80 cents to every dollar a man earns,” Mayer says. “But they also tend to take more time off work to raise their children and care for elderly parents.”
For Richer or Poorer
In advocating for equal pay for women, Gloria Steinem has pointed out that closing the wage gap would be the greatest economic stimulus our country could ever have. But despite the valiant efforts of such feminist leaders, should women finally throw in the towel and marry for money rather than love? Therapist and author Susan Pease Gadoua argues that co-parenting, companionship and financial stability are often more important marriage considerations than love. As an ambitious, independent woman, I find Pease Gadoua’s arguments hard to swallow, but I have friends and colleagues who stay in loveless marriages because they don’t believe they can have financial stability or live the lifestyle they want on their own.
Other relationship experts believe love in a marriage is more important than money. Susan Dunhoff, president of The Modern Matchmaker, has been helping clients find lasting love for 21 years. “Money comes and goes,” says Dunhoff. “There is no such thing as job security. A husband can make a fabulous living until he walks into work one morning to find a pink slip on his desk.” Dunhoff advises women to strive to reach financial independence long before they walk down the aisle. That way they can focus on meeting and marrying the love of their life. “We consider similar lifestyles and financial behaviors important in making a match. We would not match a client who jets off to Paris on a regular basis with a client who makes less than a six-figure income.” If women want to marry for love (and I think they should), they must overcome the challenges of the gender wage gap. They can’t be afraid to tout their accomplishments and ask for raises, bonuses and promotions. And as long as women are making less than men, they must be disciplined and tenacious about spending less and contributing more to their retirement accounts. I followed five rules to become a millionaire before I got married, and I encourage young women to do the same before they search for Prince Charming. Who knows? Perhaps in a few generations, it will be fathers advising their sons to marry for money instead of love.