Ginger Rogers—Fred Astaire’s dancing partner—was celebrated as a woman who could “do everything a man does, but do it backwards in high heels.”

Women’s ability to succeed despite their disadvantages has been demonstrated in sports, politics, business, medicine and academics. But when it comes to retiring successfully and comfortably, the obstacles faced by women can be too great to overcome. For many reasons and in a variety of ways, women often do not keep in step with men. In their later years, they often dance alone and not nearly so gracefully or effortlessly as their male counterparts.

In short, women’s later years are not exactly golden.

According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, women age 65 or older are 80% more likely to be below the poverty threshold than men. At ages 75 and older, women’s rate of impoverishment is three times that of men.

What explains this gender wealth gap in later life, and the fact that it gets bigger over time?

It starts in the workplace. Women generally earn less than men over their work lives as a result of spending fewer years working. And while employed, they earn less than men.

There’s also the fact that a woman is likelier to be single in her later years than a man. Census figures indicate that by age 75, the majority of women are single, whereas the majority of similarly aged men have a spouse, even into their 90s.

Longevity and culture can explain this discrepancy. Not only do women have longer life expectancies than men, they also tend to marry partners older than themselves. For a woman in her 50s and 60s, the number of available men in her age group is not only smaller but is more saturated by the presence of younger wives. Finally, women are not as eager as men to remarry after divorce.

But here’s the unanswered question: Does being single in retirement also increase the odds of a woman being poor? Or if not poor in the official government definition of the term, then economically challenged relative to her married sisters?

In the course of writing our book on the issues facing women in their retirement years, we usually begin with our own situations. Both of us are near to or in our 70s. Both of us are single, Marjorie having been widowed and Eleanor having been divorced.

Nevertheless, we enjoy our autonomy as decision makers, no longer having to deal with disagreements about money, restaurants, vacations and sleeping schedules. We are free to come and go as we please.

But we would be the first to admit that autonomy can come at a price. Without partners, routine events such as car breakdowns, home repairs and transportation after medical procedures can all cost money that our non-single friends often don’t have to pay. But that’s just the minor stuff.

Add up the fixed expenses of a home, such as utilities, insurance and maintenance, then divide this sum by “1” rather than “2” and it is clear that the cost of singlehood can loom large when you compare it with that of the partnered life. The financial advantages of shared overhead are simply not there.

There’s also the tendency for singleness to mutate into isolation, which can be as dangerous to health as smoking. Loneliness makes single women more prone to depression and illness, resulting in higher medical costs.

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