The gender-based financial gap in retirement

By Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published November 16, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Women in medicine face a financial gender gap in retirement, due to an accumulation of gender inequities throughout their careers.

  • The leading financial concern among female physicians is having enough money to retire, according to an AMA survey.

  • Ensuring financial security in retirement involves early and regular contributions to tax-deferred retirement plans. Saving 15% of pre-tax income annually is recommended in order to maintain the same lifestyle in retirement.

It won’t come as news to any woman in medicine that women live longer, on average, than men. But what you may not have considered are the significant financial implications of this reality.

For the many female physicians who began their medical careers in the 1970s and ’80s—and have reached or are nearing retirement age—the AMA notes that “remarkably little research has been done to highlight the issues facing them.”[]

Multiple issues at play

Fidelity Brokerage Services also makes note of the fact that women face a financial gender gap in retirement.[]

Some of the causes include a longer average lifespan, higher lifetime healthcare costs, and more time out of the workforce for childrearing and caregiving obligations.

As is well-covered, women in medicine often also face an ongoing salary gap throughout their careers, and are underrepresented in the highest paying medical specialties. In addition to this, there has traditionally been an investing gap between women and men, with women investing less money and doing so later in their careers, according to[]

As with the salary gap, the amount of money lost adds up over time as a result of these factors.’s 2018 projections indicated that the “real cost of the investing gap over a 35-year career span could be more than $1 million.”

This was found using an average salary of $103,000 for women, which is much less than nearly every full-time female physician makes per year. This means that the investing gap for female physicians is likely to be much more significant—potentially millions of dollars more over the course of a career.

Some female physicians are ‘afraid’ of retirement

In a survey of 155 female physicians aged 60 to 87 years, 32% reported remaining in practice in order to improve financial security.[] Twenty-five percent reported negative feelings about retirement, and 27% were “afraid” of retirement.

As the study authors noted, “Information is needed regarding financial stressors faced by senior women physicians, as they may be more financially vulnerable in retirement than male colleagues.”

Combating these challenges takes awareness and careful planning. Reaching out to a certified financial planner or wealth manager can be of tremendous help in navigating the many facets of retirement planning.

Related: Introducing Money Matters Rx: Your financial prescription for a successful future

Helpful tools

In a recent Women Talk Money webinar from Fidelity Investments, Ms. Alexandra Roca, CFP, a Workplace Financial Consultant at Fidelity, recommended that women save 15% of their pre-tax income throughout their careers “in order to maintain your current lifestyle in retirement.”

One way to be sure you are regularly setting aside savings for retirement is to automate your withdrawals. Another important tactic is to take full advantage of your employer-sponsored retirement plan, or set up a self-employed, tax-deferred, or tax-deductible plan if you run your own business.

For women in medicine who are considering new job offers, the quality of the full benefits package should be taken into account when weighing options.

Make sure you know your employer’s percentage match for the retirement plan they offer, and do the math to understand how much you would need to contribute to meet the maximum employer match.

Related: 12 compensation types beyond salary to negotiate in your contract

You can also ask how long you would need to work for that employer in order to keep their matched money (called “vesting”). With some employers, for instance, you are fully vested from day one, meaning that your retirement contributions are fully matched and all yours to keep from the time you make your first contribution.

Being prepared for retirement is an ongoing process throughout your career, but even if you are starting later, you can strategize (often with the help of a financial planner) to play catch-up with your contributions and other vehicles in order to maximize your financial security and feel at ease financially with the retirement you deserve. 

What this means for you

Combat the gender-based financial gap for women in medicine by taking full advantage of all your workplace retirement benefits. Review your contract or ask your employer how much you need to contribute to your retirement plan to receive your employer’s maximum match. If you are self-employed, you can set up your own tax-deferred retirement account. Working with a certified financial planner or wealth manager can be extremely helpful in navigating and maximizing your range of options.

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