Women see dimmer prospects than men on retirement, jobs in poll

By Heidi Przybyla and Catherine Dodge
(c) 2010 Bloomberg News
Monday, October 18, 2010; 12:26 AM

Women voters, who are less confident they'll have enough money in retirement and say they'll have to work longer than many men expect to, are taking more steps to trim household budgets.

A Bloomberg National Poll conducted Oct. 7-10 finds that 41 percent of female likely voters are either very or fairly confident they will have enough money in retirement, compared with 48 percent of male likely voters. Thirty-two percent of these women are confident they won't have to work beyond their target retirement age; 40 percent of men say the same.

Janice Woods Moorman, a 55-year-old retired bus driver from Roanoke, Virginia, who lost much of her retirement savings in the stock-market collapse of 2008, says she has cut back.

"I'm always looking for bargains," she says. "Financially, I can't do what I used to be able to do."

The poll reflects that women, who have been less affected by job cuts than men in the longest recession in seven decades, are more concerned about unemployment. Among women voters, 54 percent say unemployment is the biggest issue facing the U.S., compared with 43 percent of men.

Overall, unemployment stood at 9.6 percent in September, down from a 26-year high of 10.1 percent in October 2009.

From December 2007, the beginning of the recession, to June 2009, when it officially ended, men accounted for 66 percent of job losses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That gap has narrowed as hiring in sectors such as financial services has picked up: In September, the unemployment rate for women 20 and older was 8 percent and the rate for men was 9.8 percent.

The relatively more favorable employment picture for women in the recession may help explain why female voters in the poll are less critical than men about President Barack Obama's handling of the economy. Thirty-six percent of women say they expect their economic situation to improve, compared with 32 percent of men.

Female poll respondents were more likely than men to say the tough economy has forced them to make some changes in their household spending behavior. Greater percentages of women than men say they've changed where they shop to save money, put off a major needed purchase and made cuts in regular household expenses such as cable television, telephone and Internet service.

"We think more carefully about vacations and trips," says Jeri Neidhard, 49, a high school English teacher from Centerville, Ohio, who votes as an independent. Instead of traveling this summer, Neidhard says she saved money for some needed home renovations.

Male voters in the poll are more likely than women to be concerned about the budget deficit, and show greater interest in the Tea Party movement, which has made government spending the thrust of its campaign to oust incumbent members of Congress. Among women, 44 percent say the deficit is a manageable burden, compared with 34 percent of men.

The shortfall between spending and revenue was $1.29 trillion in the year that ended Sept. 30, down from $1.42 trillion the previous year, according to the Treasury. At 8.9 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, the 2010 deficit was the second biggest since 1945.

Overall 38 percent of men, compared with 25 percent of women, consider themselves supporters of the Tea Party movement. Four in 10 men, compared with one-quarter of women, say they believe the Tea Party will change things for the better if its candidates are elected to Congress. More than half of men say Obama's health-care law should be repealed, while just four in 10 women favor that option.

Gender differences show in attitudes toward former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a leading Tea Party figure and a possible Republican presidential contender, with 30 percent of women saying they would vote for her if she were Obama's adversary in a presidential election held today, compared with 40 percent of men. Palin leads Obama among men 45 and older.

The poll finds that more than half of women likely voters approve of the job Obama is doing, including on health care, and say the economy will either get worse or stay the same if Republicans win control of the Congress. Men, by a margin of 58 percent to 39 percent, disapprove of Obama's job performance on the economy.

Still, these female voters are less motivated this year to turn up at the polls to support Democratic candidates than their male counterparts are to support Republicans. Overall, 66 percent of women voters say they will definitely vote or already have voted, compared with 74 percent for men. Almost four in ten women voters say the election is exceptionally important, compared with almost half of men.

"Women are not linking any participation in the midterms to their support for President Obama," says J. Ann Selzer, president of Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll. "That harms Democratic candidates and may make the second half of Obama's first term more complicated."

Some female poll respondents explained they may sit out the Nov. 2 vote because the Democrats haven't lived up to the promise of change that fueled the party's victories in the 2008 campaign.

"The same old people are just getting re-elected and we're not changing in any way," says Amy Nay, a 25-year-old homemaker from Victorville, California, a Democrat who voted for Obama and may not turn out to vote for a candidate from that party next month. "We need more skirts in the White House and in our Congress."

Women are less receptive to Republicans' priorities, including their campaign pledge to cut or freeze government spending, with 45 percent calling it a good idea compared with 52 percent of men.

Fifty-five percent of women say they oppose any plan to privatize Social Security as a way to cut the deficit. That compares with 45 percent of men. Women voters also are less likely to support the Republicans' goal of extending all the tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush that expire at the end of the year, with just 28 percent of women saying they should be extended to all income levels, compared with 40 percent of men.

Obama and most Democrats have proposed renewing all the cuts, except those that exclusively affect the highest earners.

Health care is a particularly divisive issue across gender lines in the poll, with women voters more supportive of the Obama-backed overhaul passed by Congress this year.

Among likely voters, 44 percent of women say the health- care law will strengthen the economy and 35 percent say it will weaken the economy. That compares with 37 percent of men who say it will improve the economy and 48 percent who say it will make it worse.

The poll of 721 likely voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

© 2010 bloomberg.com