May 8, 2008 / 5:34 PM / 11 years ago

U.S. economic anxiety hits women harder: study

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. economic downturn has spread personal financial worries far and wide, but women are more worried about paying bills, losing jobs, providing for children and saving for retirement, according to a study released on Thursday.

A resident looks at the price of gasoline as she fills up in Miami, January 2, 2008. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The study comes as the U.S. economy has been mired in a half-year-long period of stagnation accompanied by a shrinking job market, rising energy prices and a downward spiral in consumer confidence.

The report said women, particularly among minorities, have more financial worries than men. It was based on a survey commissioned in February 2007 by the Rockefeller Foundation and an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

“Since the survey was conducted in 2007, we can only imagine that economic anxiety has heightened since that time,” said Barbara Gault, vice president and director of research at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

“As our economy gets worse, women are going to feel the pain the most,” Gault added. She was speaking to a news conference held for the report’s release.

The report was based on telephone interviews with 3,157 people aged 18 and over.

According to the survey, three of every 10 women were worried about their economic security, compared with two of every 10 men. Two-thirds of women fear they are not saving enough for retirement, but only half of men share this concern.

STRIKING DIFFERENCES, DOUBLE JEOPARDY

Job, marital status or education provides no protection from higher rates of economic anxiety compared to men, while women among minorities feel these insecurities more acutely.

“We found striking gender differences in economic anxiety and insecurity, with women much more likely than men to feel economically insecure,” said Gault. “And, not surprisingly, perhaps this insecurity is even more pronounced among women of color.”

According to the study, 48 percent of African-American women have had trouble paying bills. It said 42 percent of Hispanic women have experienced this, but only 26 percent of white women have. Single mothers had particularly high levels of worry.

“Single mothers face double jeopardy: lower earnings because they are female and more financial stress from parenting,” the report said.

It said mothers were 50 percent more likely than fathers to have to pass up buying something their child needed because they could not afford it and were also at greater risk of losing jobs than fathers or women and men without children.

The study also said women were “very worried” about possible cutbacks to old-age Social Security benefits. Even among the most well-off, women are nearly twice as concerned about threats to their Social Security benefits as men.

Women earn less during their working lives and, because of their caregiving roles, are much more likely to spend time out of the labor force, which ultimately diminishes their retirement income.

In an election year, particularly one in which a woman — Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York — has come closer than ever before to becoming president of the United States, other candidates may be well advised to take notice of these issues.

“There are important lessons here for policy-makers and political strategists,” said Gault. “Since women are more likely than men to vote, it is crucial that candidates provide compelling proposals for reform that speak to women’s economic concerns.”

Reporting by Burton Frierson; Editing by Jonathan Oatis

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