Female baby boomers shattered glass ceilings and enrolled in colleges that shut out their mothers. They took pills to control how many babies they would bear. Others chose to forgo motherhood and stay single; some married and stayed home to tend to their families.
And all this unprecedented freedom of choice got many single female baby boomers to a dead end, wondering how they'll afford to live decades longer.
Single female baby boomers are the least-prepared of this more than 75-million-strong generation to financially navigate their senior years. Their moms, too, weren't prepared, but most braved those years alongside a husband.
About 40 percent of female baby boomers are single now -- up from 30 percent in 1989 -- and most never meant to be. Nationally, there are about 17 million single females ages 46 to 64; about two-thirds of them separated from, divorced or buried their spouse.
While many baby boomer women stayed home, at least for a time, to raise their children, the generation brought the first sizable number of women to the workforce. And, many thrived, leading experts to hope this generation of women would be better prepared financially for their senior years.
"I think everyone expected these women to be different. They lived differently and we hoped they could retire differently, too," said Donna Watkins, a Raleigh-based financial specialist for ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions, a nonprofit that has worked with many female baby boomers struggling to prepare for retirement.
But, working wasn't the silver bullet. Those who joined the workforce earned less than their male counterparts, nationally about 77 cents to the man's dollar. And many who devoted their prime to motherhood find themselves divorced and returning to a workforce that doesn't have space or patience for them. Those women had less time to build up their Social Security savings or 401(k) plans.
Experts began predicting this landmine for single females nearing retirement years ago. The Federal Reserve Board found in 2001 that only a third of single women had any sort of retirement savings account; at the same time, less than 10 percent of single women had a pension through their jobs. This compared to about two-thirds of married couples and 42 percent of single men having retirement accounts.
Now, the turbulent economy has turned those early warnings into full-scale alarms. Even the women who prepared have had their plans derailed. Some eye their retirement savings warily and wonder whether they will outlive the money they set aside for these years, a real possibility as their life expectancy stretched to age 85. Others are heading back to work.
Practically all of them are kicking themselves for not doing better.
"I never thought about retirement. No one ever talked about it and what I needed to do," said Katrina Philips, 62, of Clayton, N.C. "I guess I was stupid about it."
Like Philips, Bette Lee Drake didn't waste much time thinking about saving for her senior years.
Her father was an affluent cattle rancher in Texas and her mother's side of the family had money, too.
"I never thought I'd have to work," said Drake, 62, of Raleigh. "I thought I'd be at home as a wife and a mother. I had no ambition. I figured I'd be a princess for the rest of my life."
Drake's prince didn't stick around, however, leaving her as a single mother of three children. Drake's mother urged her to go to college to earn a teaching degree.
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