MONEY

Six-Figure Women on the Rise…So?

The number of working women earning six-figure salaries is climbing at an impressive rate. But once you get out of that rarefied atmosphere, women, whether in the workforce or retired from it, still have a lot of catching up to do.

Over the past two years, the population of women earning $100,000 or more jumped by 14%, The Washington Post reported this morning, citing new Census data. In comparison, only 4% of men joined the six-figure club over the same time.

You’d like to leave such good news for women well-enough alone. The research is another encouraging sign that women’s economic progress continues. (Bear in mind, however, that one out of seven male full-time workers earns six figures, compared to one out of 18 female workers, and that men earning six figures still outnumber women by more than three to one.)

But the high-end salary news comes on the heels of distressing reports about the more typical experience of women in and out of the workforce. A survey last month from the Employee Benefits Research Institute found that the average income of women age 65 and older was 43% lower than their that of their male counterparts (about $21,500, compared to $37,500 for men). One major reason: Income attributable directly to employment — earnings and pensions — amounted to $19,250 for men, but only $7,850 for women). Social Security made up about half of women’s incomes, compared to about one-third of men’s.

And as of 2009, reports the Department of Labor, the median income of full-time working women was 20% lower than men’s — about $34,000, compared to $42,600.

While these numbers reflect societal conditions beyond any one person’s ability to control, there is a cautionary tale here for individuals.

One would hope that as women earn more that they would also likely save more — and become more savvy, proactive stewards of their money.

One would hope that, as today’s working women retire and enter their sunset years, surveys will report that Social Security is a much smaller part of their income stream — that women will reap the fruit of decades of earning, saving and investing.

At the moment, that’s not a sure bet. Although women are just as likely to have retirement accounts as men are, their contributions and account balances are still much lower than men’s.

Sometimes the swiftest way to motivate behavioral change is to run some numbers and peek at down the road that lies ahead, and realize that even a small change now could dramatically alter your future. If you saved just another one percent of your salary each year, you might ask yourself, how would that change your income stream in retirement? To find the answer, try this useful calculator.

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