By Abigail C. Reid
Writer-Editor, Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board
Recently, the Thrift Savings Plan examined gender differences in retirement saving among Federal employees. For the first time, we segmented data from our annual Participant Behavior and Demographics Report by gender, in addition to factors like age and length of tenure. Considering that March is Women’s History Month, we wanted to share what we learned.
When we look at TSP participation rates by gender, they are virtually identical. In 2013, the most recent year for which figures are available, 89.1% of women covered under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) were contributing to their TSP accounts, compared to 89.3%of men.
But when we dig a little deeper, slight differences emerge. For example, consider deferral rates—or how much of their salaries participants save: Women saved an average of 7.4% of their salaries, while men saved an average of 8.0% of their salaries. And that difference has been consistent for the past five years.Even a difference that slight can reduce your nest egg by thousands of dollars over time.
Other differences are more pronounced. On average, female participants allocated almost 11% more of their savings to the G Fund than men in 2013.While the G Fund never loses money, its returns are so low that it may not outpace inflation over time. Women were also more than 1.5 times as likely as men to take a pre-retirement withdrawal due to financial hardship.
What causes this variance? Research suggests that confidence may play a role. BlackRock, Inc., conducted a global study that found that 52% of women (compared to 43% of men) chose negative words like “nervous,” “pessimistic,” “frustrated,” and “concerned” to describe their financial future. In that same study, only about one-fifth of women said they were “comfortable” investing in the stock market, compared to one-third of men.
So what are we female Feds to do? The TSP offers a number of tools to help us make the right decisions.
- Consider our Lifecycle Funds (L 2050, L 2040, L 2030, L 2020, and L Income), which are professionally designed to grow more conservative based on when you’ll need your money. Just listen to Debbie, a 38-year-old TSP participant who works for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.“ As I get closer to retirement, I imagine that I would be less willing to take risks with my retirement savings, so it is of particular importance to me that the [Lifecycle] funds automatically become more conservative over time,” she says. “The TSP is easy to use, which is a plus in light of how daunting the stock market can be to a layperson.”
- Want to review your TSP account, see how it’s performed in the past, or change how you are currently investing your money? Just log into the My Account section of tsp.gov to review your quarterly and annual account statements. To change how your TSP account is invested, choose “Contribution Allocations” or “Inter fund Transfers” from the menu on the left.
- Visit the Planning & Tools section of tsp.gov. Our calculators provide financial projections to help you plan for the future, while illustrative graphics like our Ways to Save Chart can show you how saving a few dollars a day can add up to a lot over time.
The TSP offers a number of tools that can help you make informed savings decisions. After all, it may be Women’s History Month now, but it’s important to think about the future too.
 P. 6 of 2014 Participant Behavior and Demographics Report: See chart.
 P. 9 of 2014 Participant Behavior and Demographics Report: See chart.
 P. 12 of 2014 Participant Behavior and Demographics Report: See chart.
 P. 17 of 2014 Participant Behavior and Demographics Report: “More females (5.0%) than males (3.2%) received hardship withdrawals in 2013.”