By Ken Bloom, J.D., LLM

It probably won’t come as a shock that women in the U.S. live five years longer than men on average.  But what may surprise you is that women are not financially prepared for their later years.

A recent survey conducted by Merrill Lynch in partnership with Age Wave, “Women and Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line” indicates that many women aren’t on equal footing with men regarding their financial situations, and don’t feel comfortable in investing for their future to help bridge the financial inequities.

A big part of this financial discrepancy is that women face issues throughout their lives that make it more difficult to be as financial secure as many men.

 Career Interruptions

Work disruptions as a result of parenting and care giving affect a woman’s potential earning over her lifetime.   These work interruptions equate to lower retirement savings in their 401(k) and ultimately lower Social Security benefits.

 Higher Health Costs

 Another financial challenge a woman needs to plan for is higher health costs (39 percent to be exact) than the average man in retirement. The study attributes this to women retiring earlier, living longer and being more likely to spend years alone and having to rely on formal long-term care in their later years. Women are also more likely to have multiple chronic conditions.

Debt and Pay Disparities

The study found that women are as equally confident as men when it comes to paying bills and budgeting, but that confidence drops significantly when it comes to investing.  Forty-one percent of women say not investing more is their biggest regret. Women cite lack of knowledge (60 percent) and confidence (34 percent) as top barriers.

Women also admit that taking on credit card debt and not living within or below their means is a contributing factor in missing their financial goals.

What should women do to bridge this financial “gap”?

One of the most important thing women need to do is invest the money they do earn wisely.  However, 41 percent of women in the survey indicated that not investing more is their biggest regret. Women also cite lack of knowledge (60 percent) and confidence (34 percent) as top barriers to investing.

Based on these statistics, it is important for women to seek the advice of a qualified financial advisor who can help develop a saving and investing strategy that will ensure they have enough money to retire comfortably.

For younger women, getting into a regular saving and investing routine and taking advantage of employer retirement plans can really make a difference in their long-term financial stability when they retire.  For women who are married, that means making sure they are part of the family’s financial and retirement planning so they aren’t at a loss if their spouse passes away before they do.  And for older women who are single, divorced or widowed, it is even more important to seek professional financial advice to ensure they don’t end up running out of money in retirement.