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As women age with longevity on their side, the financial future is female

Jun 29, 2020 | RBC Wealth Management


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They’re the chief advisors to four generations, and their economic influence can no longer be overlooked.

Business women gather in office setting.

It won’t be Millennial CEOs or Gen Z entrepreneurs who wield the most financial power in the coming decades—it will be the wave of Baby Boomer women.

Nearly 100 million Americans will be 65 and older by 2060, and more of them will be women as they live five years longer than their partners on average, and continue to age into their 80s and 90s.

“Women will have mind-blowing financial power in the coming years, both in the economy and in their own families,” says Angie O’Leary, head of Wealth Planning at RBC Wealth Management–U.S. “That’s something most women don’t realize when they start to make plans for their financial futures.”

With this wealth comes more financial responsibility and complexity, often intertwined with juggling careers, caregiving, and life transitions. With more generations residing together in the same household than ever before, women in their 50s and 60s are serving a pivotal role for their parents, children, and grandchildren.

“For the first time in history, these Baby Boomer women are becoming the chief financial adviser to four generations,” O’Leary says. “Their influence is extremely powerful.”

And women’s financial impact on the world at large will be evident, as they often spend wealth differently than men, she says.

“Women are the primary philanthropic givers in the family, and we see that play out in unique ways when the surviving spouse is a woman,” O’Leary says. “Women are a little bit more in favor of socially responsible or environmental causes.”

A 2018 study from RBC Wealth Management of 1,051 high-net-worth individuals, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, found 53 percent of women are more likely to put more stock in societal causes than growing wealth to define their legacy. That’s compared to 49 percent of men. The study also found younger women identify even more strongly with that philosophy: twice as many high-net-worth Millennial and Gen X women as Baby Boomers cite the ability to create change through giving as a top definition of wealth.

Women also frequently hold different views from men on how to transfer wealth to the next generation, O’Leary says. “Women would rather give while they’re alive and enjoy watching the fruits of their gifting, whereas men think about legacy as what’s left over will get passed to their loved ones.”

These shifting demographics make women the biggest players in what’s called the longevity economy—powered by adults 50 and older who are responsible for 70 percent of disposable income in the United States. If the longevity economy were a country, it would have the third-largest gross domestic product, behind the United States and China, according to Joseph Coughlin, author of The Longevity Economy and director of the MIT AgeLab, which has spent two decades devoted to research that busts myths about aging.

“Women are the biggest players in the longevity economy, and their power as consumers remains largely overlooked,” Coughlin says. “Their influence comes from the fact that they make choices not only for themselves, but often for a child, spouse or parent. They are most likely to be the chief consumer officer of the household.”

Women also have a longer average lifespan, and may need to plan for longer retirements and greater health care expenses, O’Leary says, and their numbers will also drive housing trends and demand for certain services.

That includes longevity “hacks” like single or widowed women moving in with sisters or roommates, not unlike the plot of the TV sitcom The Golden Girls. Older women are also driving traffic on Stitch, a social media app designed to help people over 50 find companionship, but most of them use it to find friends for bridge games, movies or other outings, rather than to find dates.

Going forward, women will continue to define what it means to live well into old age, O’Leary says. “Longevity is something to celebrate.”

Originally written by Mpls.St.Paul Magazine in collaboration with RBC Wealth Management.

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Wealth planning