Over at WomensVoicesforChange, Chris Lombardi wondered:

(We do wonder if the Newsday editors intentionally mis-heard Madsen, and if she meant what we know: that the world is telling us not to get old.)

Our women are 64 to 94 living vibrant lives, when the world is telling you to get old. ..

Oh, no, no, I don’t think she did. I think what she meant was that the world is telling us to ACT old once we reach a certain age. How often have we heard ‘can’t you just act your age’? One of the stock comedic (or maybe that should be tragicomedic) characters in movies and fiction is the mother who is trying to kick it with her kids’ friends. When a guy hits 50 and buys a sporty red Miata and a 23 year old girlfriend, we smile indulgently and joke that he’s going through a second childhood. When a 50 year old woman puts on a bikini and hits the poolside with the cabana boy, we accuse her of trying to stay young. And just try telling your kids that you’ve decided to get a nose piercing and a tattoo – your grandkids will cheer for you. Your kids are more likely to start considering your mental stability.

That is changing a bit, thanks to advertisers recognizing where the deep pockets are, but it was only to be expected that us older folks would be portrayed more admirably when the lion’s share of the market GOT older. I admit to having mixed feelings about the new crop of ads aimed at ‘women of a certain age’. I love that the advertisers have let gramma get out of her rocking chair and take to the sky in a glider. I love that so many advertisers have realized that beauty comes in many shapes, sizes and ages. I love that there are ads showing older men married to older women with whom they are still in love.

What I don’t love is the realization that my chances of taking off in a glider or starting my own vineyard are substantially lower than they are for a man or for a married couple. According to AARP statistics,

There is also a greater risk of poverty in old age for women than for men. Elderly women are nearly twice as likely to be poor as elderly men and the risk of poverty increases as women age. While poverty rates among the elderly are low for married couples, they are significantly higher for unmarried women who are widowed, divorced or never married.

Also, in 2001 when most women in this study were in retirement, the poverty rate was three times higher for African-American women (42 percent) than for white women (14 percent).

The AARP research report states that nearly 2/3rds of white women who are poor in old age were not poor in earlier years; that poverty among older African-American women is more likely to reflect the economic disadvantages of earlier years; that white women are more likely to have income from assets than African-American women and that income from a pension plan plays a greater role in helping African-American women remain solvent than it does in helping white women avoid poverty as they age. For both white and African-American women, marriage lowers the odds of poverty over their entire lifespan.

It does offer some good news for our daughters – and this is part of the reason why women like me have spent lives supporting candidates who support “women’s issues”. According to the report,

Younger women are more likely to have continuous work experience compared to the older generation in this study, most of whom left work when their children were young but returned to work as their children grew older. With a continuous work record, younger women are likely to have higher income from Social Security and pensions.

The recommendations of the authors of the report (Sunhwa Lee and Lois B. Shaw of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research) are that legislators examine the barriers facing older women and employment, and work toward improving the Social Security system and employer provided pensions. I think we need to go deeper than that. I think we need to start younger than that. I want to see practical finances and investment courses being taught to girls from the earliest school years. I want to see as many ads on television featuring young women investing as there are featuring young men investing. I want to see young fashionistas blogging about their financial portfolios and giving tips on picking good investments as easily and readily as they give tips on which scarf to wear with that little black dress. I want more articles in women’s magazines – especially young women’s magazines – about how to build financial security.

We’re talking about different kinds of barriers here, ones that go beyond legislation attacking pink collar ghettos and glass ceilings and pay inequality. I’m talking about a concerted effort to change the way we and our daughters think about saving and making money. I want to see television ads for e*Trade that feature college age girls and young mothers making a trade and buying stock. I want ads for yogurt with two women discussing their IRAs and 401(k)’s poolside. I want, in short, for it to be socially admirable and acceptable for young women to think about finances and money and understand how money makes money as a matter of course. I want my daughters and nieces and grand-daughters to grow up in a world where investment companies and financial institutions talk to them about retirement and estate planning and investment banking just as seriously as they do to their brothers and husbands.

I know that I’m putting the cart before the horse. I realize that women today still earn only 70 cents to every dollar earned by men. If anything, that makes this kind of education more important for young women – even as we work toward pay equity, I want to know that my daughters can make that damn 70 cents work its tail off for them.


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