Is the wife mostly to blame?

Fewer than half of married couples do any retirement planning at all.

Lack of retirement planningA focus group conducted by Hearts & Wallets showed that husbands can get frustrated that wives show no interest at all in retirement planning. One man reported that his wife “is not interested in investing,” and another said “all my wife cares about is if we’re going to have the money.”

One man volunteered this worst-case scenario: “If I were to get hit by a train on the way home, she would be clueless about what to do with what we have or how to handle anything.”

Hearts & Wallets co-founder Laura Varas calls it the issue of the “uninvolved spouse.” In a new analysis of its 2013 survey data on 5,400 US households, the financial research firm found that 80 percent of these uninvolved spouses are wives among couples approaching retirement age. The good news is that younger wives are more engaged, Varas said. In early- and mid-career couples, fewer than 60 percent of uninvolved spouses were women.

It’s hard to imagine how anyone can avoid this conversation, given the myriad issues to resolve: Will you stagger your retirement dates, especially if your ages are far apart? If saving and paying off the mortgage are twin retirement goals, are you both still contributing enough to your 401(k)s to ensure you get the full employer match? Have you coordinated your strategies for claiming Social Security? Will you be financially secure if your spouse dies first?

“I have a lot of empathy and want to get those women more involved,” Vargas said, but “I also understand why their husbands are concerned about them.”

Lower financial literacy among women, a focus on children rather than money, math anxiety – any or all of these may explain disinterested wives. But the facts are that women typically out-live their husbands, retirement is complicated, and two heads are better than one at sorting out the financial issues.

Getting involved is the smart thing to do, and more younger women are figuring this out.

—Based on an article published by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College