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Only One In Four Women Expect Life To Be Better In Retirement

February 28, 2018

Annual Nationwide Retirement Institute® survey reveals concerns over Social Security and health care costs dim retirement outlook, but there’s hope

Columbus, OH - Social Security provides critical income for many American women. In fact, 62 percent of women say Social Security will be their primary source of retirement income. So it’s no wonder women are increasingly concerned about its viability and their happiness in retirement.

The annual survey from the Nationwide Retirement Institute®, conducted online by The Harris Poll among 1,012 U.S. adults ages 50 or older who are retired or plan to retire in the next 10 years, including 473 women, found that only 25 percent of women say life is, or is expected to be, better in retirement than before retirement (down from 31 percent last year). What’s more, 26 percent of women say that life in retirement is, or is expected to be, worse. For many, worries about Social Security coupled with the cost of health care is putting a damper on their retirement dreams.

The survey also shows that on average, women count or expect to count on Social Security to pay 58 percent of all their expenses in retirement, and 18 percent count or will count on it to pay all or nearly all their expenses (91 percent – 100 percent). However, three in four women (75 percent) worry Social Security will run out of funding in their lifetime – up from 62 percent last year – and more than half (58 percent) believe there will be cuts to Social Security under the current presidential administration.

“The percentage of women who believe Social Security will run out in their lifetime is the highest we have seen since we started this survey four years ago,” said Tina Ambrozy, president of sales and distribution for Nationwide. “Of the future women retirees who said they plan to claim Social Security benefits early, some cited concerns that benefits might be reduced due to Social Security reforms.”

“There is reason for concern, but most likely, Social Security is not going away any time soon. Social Security receives 77 percent of its funding through current payroll taxes. 2 Together, unexpected health care costs and the potential of reduced benefits make optimizing Social Security more important than ever,” added Ambrozy.

Health care costs vs benefits 

Nearly one in three (32 percent) say health problems are interfering with their retirement. Among those who have them, 77 percent say health problems occurred sooner than expected. In addition, the expenses associated with health care keep about a quarter of retirees (26 percent) from living the retirement they expected. 

On average women live longer, meaning they spend more time in retirement and often do so with less savings.

“The average American woman claiming Social Security benefits at 62 could spend about 75 percent of their monthly Social Security benefits on health care costs,” 3 said Ambrozy. “That’s why it’s so important to consider optimizing Social Security. Too many retirees need the money, but few are maximizing their benefit.”

Many women collect benefits early

Nearly three in four (74 percent) women currently collecting Social Security benefits took those benefits early, locking in a lifetime of lower income.

The survey including 473 women over 50 who are retired or plan to be in the next 10 years found that of the 290 women currently collecting Social Security, only 4 percent maximized their monthly check by waiting to claim at age 70.

A quarter (25 percent) of women believe Social Security on its own should be enough to help them live comfortably in retirement (compared to 15 percent last year).

“Too many women retirees have no retirement income outside of Social Security,” says Roberta Eckert, vice president of the Nationwide Retirement Institute. “And even for women that do, the fact that they live longer, makes considering maximizing Social Security benefits extremely important.”

Women want help with Social Security filing options

Only 13 percent of women say they receive advice on Social Security from a financial advisor.

“Financial advisors share a noble purpose of helping people prepare for a secure and happy retirement,” says Eckert. “But it seems they have their work cut out for them. There are a variety of filing strategies open to women — but too few seek professional advice from a financial advisor to take advantage of them.” 

It’s not that women don’t want the advice. In fact, three in five women (60 percent) admit that if their financial advisor could not show them how to maximize their benefit — they would likely switch to an advisor who could.

Nationwide’s Social Security 360® program helps advisors find their clients’ optimal Social Security filing options. The program includes a tool with software that compares all election strategies available to married couples, single people, divorced people, widows, government employees and even those who have already elected a strategy.

See how to make the most of your Social Security benefits at Advisors can visit


The 2017 Social Security Study was conducted online within the U.S. by The Harris Poll on behalf of Nationwide between May 26 and June 6, 2017. The respondents comprised of 1,012 U.S. adults ages 50 or older who are retired or plan to retire in the next 10 years, including 473 women. These women included 295 who are currently retired, and 178 who plan to retire in the next 10 years. Data are weighted where necessary on gender, race/ethnicity, region, education, and propensity to be online, to bring them in line with their actual proportions in the population.

The 2016 Social Security Study was conducted online within the U.S. by The Harris Poll on behalf of Nationwide between February 16 and February 23, 2016. The respondents comprised of 909 U.S. adults aged 50 or older who are retired or plan to retire in the next 10 years, including 465 women.

About The Harris Poll
The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys in the U.S. tracking public opinion, motivations and social sentiment since 1963 that is now part of Harris Insights & Analytics, a global consulting and market research firm that delivers social intelligence for transformational times. We work with clients in three primary areas; building twenty-first-century corporate reputation, crafting brand strategy and performance tracking, and earning organic media through public relations research. Our mission is to provide insights and advisory to help leaders make the best decisions possible. To learn more, please visit and connect with The Harris Poll on Twitter and LinkedIn.

About Nationwide 

Nationwide, a Fortune 100 company based in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the U.S. and is rated A+ by both A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s. The company provides a full range of insurance and financial services, including auto, commercial, homeowners, farm and life insurance; public and private sector retirement plans, annuities and mutual funds; banking and mortgages; excess & surplus, specialty and surety; pet, motorcycle and boat insurance. For more information, visit


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