22 February 2009

Asian American women and retirement

Am I saving enough for my retirement? No. Should I be worried? Yes. This Saturday's edition of Bonnie Erbe's PBS show, To The Contrary , had an interesting slant on retirement: the fact that saving for retirement can be especially challenging for Asian-American women. Since we're all familiar with the cultural stereotype of Asians being hardworking, frugal and good at saving, I was surprised to hear that a significant number of Asian American women (28%) rely soley on Social Security for retirement income.

Bonnie Erbe's panel included Former Assistant Secretary on Aging Dr. Jeanette Takamura and Global Summit of Women President Irene Natividad (who is Filipino American), and they spent some time discussing why retirement savings can be an issue for Asian Americans. First of all, we have long lifespans (Asian American women's lifespan is about 86 years, 5 years longer than for white females, and almost 10 years longer than for African Americans). Second, we're women, and women generally earn 70 cents to the dollar as compared to men's salaries in similar jobs. And third -- which I found most interesting -- many Asian American women find themselves in the position of becoming caregivers for their own parents (even as they care for their children), and average caregiver could actually lose as much as $25,000 in Social Security benefits!

It's sad that the wonderful tradition of caring for the elderly can have such an impact on our own financial future. Sending parents to retirement homes is just not part of the Filipino culture. When I was young, my grandmother lived with us for some time after her husband, my grandfather, passed away. Now she lives in Manila with her youngest daughter and several grandchildren. Not that she can't afford to live on her own -- in fact my aunt lives in her house, not the other way around -- but she doesn't want to be apart from her family.

I'm not hesitant about generalizing that Filipinos -- in the Philippines, in the US and all over the world -- are quite comfortable living as an extended, multigenerational family. But for the financially strapped Filipino Americans who watched this show, I wonder how the realities of saving for retirement are going to affect their willingness to take in an elderly parent. Especially since you can never tell if that same tradition will remain when we reach retirement age and our own children have to decide whether to take us in and care for us.

Geez. I'd better start putting more money away for my golden years. Or maybe buy a house in Manila and retire there.

Bonggamom tries to write nice things about her kids on Finding Bonggamom in the hopes that they will love and care for her when they are grown up and she's just a poor, old widow. She also writes at Bonggamom Finds, Silicon Valley Moms, and Silicon Valley Savvy Source.


Mom2Amara said...

I was disappointed because my local PBS station was not carrying this show. I really wanted to see it.

Money right now is such a scary prospect. But thinking about finances in the future is down right frightening.

Java Cupcake said...

I'm super happy to have found your blog. I'm taking a class right now and we're learning about the Filipino culture as it stands here in the US... My professor wrote a book about it called: Building Diaspora : Fillipino Cultural Community Formation on the Internet by Emily Noelle Ignacio. VERY interesting stuff!! :)

Anyhoo... thanks for stopping by my blog too!!!