Report: 13,403 Utah women over age 65 live below the poverty level

FILE - This Oct. 24, 2016 file photo shows dollar bills in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

A new report gives a snapshot look into women and finances and it doesn't look good, especially for Utah's senior women.

The Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) released its new research on Wednesday that showed only 30% of women and 35% of men worldwide show a basic level of financial literacy.

Taking a more microscopic approach by narrowing the research to the Beehive State, the findings revealed that there is a pressing need for women to increase their understanding of financial situations and decisions they face during their lives.

The research focused on three broad stages within women’s lives and various financial considerations they encounter:

  1. Childhood and adolescence (family attitudes and behaviors surrounding money, financial education, first jobs, and planning for college);
  2. Young adult years through adulthood (student loans and other debt, workforce participation and income, and homeownership); and
  3. Retirement and senior years (saving and investing habits, marital status/living situation, and financial challenges, including poverty).

Nearly half of Utah women over age 65 are either single or married with a spouse absent (80,000 women total), the research found.

"Women cannot afford to leave financial decisions to others," the report stated.

In fact, the report goes onto say that many senior women live in poverty. In the United States, 10.8% of women over age 65 live below the poverty level, versus 7.4% of men. In Utah, these percentages are lower: 8.2% of Utah women and 4.9% of Utah men live below the poverty line, yet this percentage represents 13,403 Utah women.

According to a 2019 report, 84% of Utah women over age 65 receive Social Security (average benefit of $12,000 per year). For 66% of Utah senior women, Social Security comprises 50% or more of their income, and for 40% of them, Social Security makes up 100% of their income, the report states.

Although many Utah seniors live in households supported by two incomes, nearly half of Utah women over 65 are on their own, and the percentage is likely to increase as a woman ages. The report concluded:

It is important to reduce taboos surrounding financial conversations, as women’s quality of life, overall health, and even their physical safety can be enhanced by their knowledge and ability to be financially independent. Hence, it is critical for all stakeholders, including individuals, families, churches, schools, nonprofits, and government agencies to do more to enable women’s lifelong financial literacy and empowerment. By so doing we will not only strengthen the impact of Utah women, but also our neighborhoods, communities, and the state as a whole.

UWLP derived from an inquiry from Utah's Commissioner of Higher Education, Bill Sederberg, and Assistant Commissioner, Lucille Stoddard, to Dr. Susan R. Madsen about the troubling status of women and education within the state of Utah in 2008. This conversation led to the creation of the "one-year" Utah Women and Education Project (UWEP) in 2009.

Since then, the project has grown and Madsen and other committed individuals have hosted dozens of events and gatherings; produced and published scores of research briefs, snapshots, and resources; and connected thousands of women to the ideas, information, and inspiration they need to move forward with their own education and leadership goals.

Click here to read the entire report: “Women and Finances: What Utahns Need to Know."