Lower wages and higher medical costs are putting retiring women at greater risk for financial ruin than men, according to a recent survey.

Seventy percent of nursing home residents are women, and the average cost of a private nursing home room is more than $90,000 per year, said Debra Whitman, Chief Public Policy Officer for the AARP. Retired women pay about $600 more per year than men on out-of-pocket health costs, Whitman said.

Many women put their family’s needs before their own security, Whitman said. According to the 17th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey, half of working women say saving for retirement is a priority, compared to 62% of working men.

Compounding the issue is that women often have less money than men to pay for long-term health care, she said. Women generally earn less than men (79 cents to the dollar) and women spend more time out of the workforce to care for children or aging parents.

To keep themselves safe, one retirement planner said women need to focus more on their health and find advisers who can understand their specific financial needs.

“The financial industry speaks the language of risk tolerance and investments,” said Jeannette Bajalia, president of life planning firm Women’s Worth. “I speak the language of protection and security, not being a burden to anyone. I want my money to last as long as I last.”

According to Social Security Administration data, a 65-year-old woman can expect to live to age 86.6, compared to an average male lifespan of 84.3. Women need to stretch money to cover a longer lifespan, and in the course of a longer life, they will incur more health care expenses, Bajalia said.

“Very few men are sitting around in nursing homes,” Bajalia said. “It’s the women.”

Bajalia said women who leave retirement planning to their spouses do so at their own peril.

“Many of the couples I serve say, ‘She’ll just sell the house when I die, or she’ll spend less,’” Bajalia said. “Well, that may not be the case. What if the housing market isn’t right?”

Women need take control of their finances and seek financial help from people who understand their priorities, Bajalia said. Women also need to stay on top of preventative care, general wellness and physical fitness. A gym membership now may reduce medical bills later, she said.

“I beg. I shout from the mountaintops. Ladies, get your heads out of the sand. You deserve better,” she said.

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