Lean in or out? The smart answer has less to do with your career aspirations or parenting commitment and more to do with your pocketbook. Many women need to lean in the direction of financial security.
If you are lucky to live in a high-income household that continually generates the right level of savings for a robust retirement—you may have no interest in leaning in to a big commitment paid job. And if you have many productive and interesting activities that give your life purpose–and make you feel happy and fulfilled—all the more reason to lean in to home sweet home.
But if your retirement nest egg has dangerous cracks, that’s a reason to lean in to some variety of work that will help you bolster long-term financial security. This recommendation has nothing to do with opinions on whether women should pursue careers vs. family—it’s based only on reality. It does not matter if you are caring for children, aging parents or a flock of chickens. What matters is that you do not jeopardize your ability to live in a comfortable (not necessarily high flying) way many, many years down the road. Women are caregivers, but we have to think of ourselves, too.
EACH YEAR OUT OF THE WORKFORCE A WOMAN FORFEITS UP TO FOUR TIMES HER SALARY.
As I’ve said before in my blog: many women who opt out of the workforce to take care of family see only the present moment—not the long-term view. If you really need to contribute to your retirement nest egg and you ignore the workforce because you feel, for example, it is categorically the “right thing” to stay home with children, think carefully about whether you could burden those same children with your financial shortcomings at age 82.
Too many women simply are not facing financial facts. The Fidelity Investments Money FIT Women Study found that 8 in 10 women actually don’t talk about their finances with friends and family. Half of women are just plain nervous about making financial decisions. Yet…90% of women will be the sole financial decision-makers for their households at some point in their lives. That probably includes me and you.
With the huge media focus on the wage gap, we all know that women most often earn less money than men—and they often earn no money at all for many years. Because they work less, they have less invested in company retirement or pension plans. But women live longer, so the need for pragmatic earning, saving and investing is huge.
The fact is that women can manage finances just as well as men. If you were an Art History major and you’re “just not good with numbers”, you can still forecast your retirement needs and plan your financial future. With the help of a good adviser—female or male—you can decide if one household income will generate the retirement savings you require and if you can afford to take a work hiatus of any length. If the answer is no, there are many ways to work—with different structures and levels of commitment—to raise your savings balance while you raise your family.
Eye-opening details about the cost of retirement and funding all of life’s you never knows is a big focus of my upcoming book, Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead (Nicholas Brealey, Hachette Business Group, October 2018).
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