Living a Life That’s Not Golden: Black Women in the Retirement Years

Avis Jones-DeWeever, Ph.D.

CEO, Incite Unlimited 


A major part of the American dream is to have the privilege of one-day experiencing the golden years—that magical time in life that comes after decades of employment when you can finally get out of the rat-race and experience life on your own terms.  

After years of dedication to the world of work, most look forward to finally being positioned to embrace the future with all the time and freedom necessary to live out your wildest dreams.  But the key factor that unlocks the full potential of these years is the financial ability to truly make them glimmer. Unfortunately, for far too many Black women, those sought-after golden years, never come.  

To be clear, Black women enter their retirement years with decades of hard work behind them.  In fact, more than any group of women in America, they are most likely to have spent decades in the  labor market.  And not only are they most likely to have worked, they are disproportionately likely to have been a key breadwinner in their homes.  So their labor was not merely for their personal survival, in many circumstances, it has kept entire families afloat.

With such a strong attachment to the labor force, why then are Black women unlikely to experience a golden future once they hit their retirement years?  The answer is simple.  

Black women are especially likely to have worked for less. According to the National Women’s Law Center, Black women earn only 67 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.  As a result, Black women have less disposable income to potentially invest in wealth-generating vehicles that could fund their retirement years. Additionally, as this wage gap persists, the cumulative effects are staggering. In fact, over the course of a 40-year career it is estimated that Black women lose some $907,680 in wages due to the wage gap alone (National Women’s Law Center, 2022).  Hence, most Black women never even have the chance at constructing a nest egg that could have amounted to nearly a million dollars had they just been paid more fairly.

Additionally, according to a study by the Urban Institute, Black women enter their retirement years far behind on several indicators of retirement preparedness.  For example:

  • Black women have the lowest average value of housing at $52,667 compared with $102,471 for all women and $54,519 for Black men;  
  • Black women have the lowest average value of total assets at $93,221 compared with $251,856 for all women and $155,266 for Black;
  • Black women have the second lowest average value of financial assets at $24,993 compared with $100,045 for all women and $51,369 for Black men;
  • And finally, Black women have the lowest average salary at $22,258, compared with $23,418 for all women, and $29,618 for Black men (Viceisza, 2023). 

As a result of these clear disadvantages, it’s no wonder that Black women are especially likely to live in poverty during their retirement years.  According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, over a third (35%) of Black women over the age of 65 in the United States were living in poverty or near poverty in 2018. And those poverty rates increase for unmarried Black women or for those who had children.

In order to address these challenges and create a brighter retirement future for Black women, it is critical that wage discrimination is addressed through the passage of legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act.  Until Black women are paid fairly, there is little hope that many will have a fighting chance at experiencing retirement security in their elder years.  Additionally, it is critical that Social Security is both protected and strengthened.  For many, and especially for Black women, Social Security is the last line of defense that keeps them from experiencing complete destitution in their not-so golden years.