Even Financially Successful Women Fear Becoming "Bag Ladies," New Study Finds

Photo: Getty Images/Spencer PlattEven earning a six-figure income is apparently not enough to ease the fear, among a whole lot of women, of winding up destitute and alone. That’s according to the 2013 “Women, Money and Power and Study” by Allianz Life, released this week, which found that 49 percent of those surveyed had a deep-down fear of becoming a “bag lady,” with more than a quarter of those women making $200,000 or more a year.

“For women, money is often seen as a finite thing,” Eleanor Blayney, consumer advocate for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, told Yahoo! Shine. Even though it’s no longer true that women must figure out how to survive on the money that men dole out to them, she said, there could be a bit of that residual anxiety in our cultural DNA. “Men are cultured a little bit differently around that,” she noted. “They have more of a sense of, well, when it runs out, you go out and make more.”

For the research, Allianz surveyed 2,200 nationally representative women aged 25 to 75 with a household income of at least $30,000. It asked, among its many questions, “Deep down, do you ever worry about losing all your money and becoming homeless or a bag lady?” and nearly half admitted to worrying about it either “often” or “sometimes.” Although most of those who had the concern were single (56 percent), 43 percent of married thought about it as well.

Other key findings: Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said they both “have more earning power than ever before.” More than half (55 percent) said they take the lead in suggesting new investing ideas, and 60 percent are responsible for dealing with the family taxes.

Still, many think financial empowerment can be alienating, with 42 percent believing financially independent women are intimidating to men and often end up alone, with 31 percent saying such ladies are hard to relate to and don’t have many friends.

Along with the straight-up bag lady fear were concerns about retirement—the worry that keeps most women (57 percent) up at night, second only to the loss of a spouse or significant other.

“I think that, for women, running out of money is equivalent to running out of love,” Blayney said. “You see a picture of a bag lady, and she’s got slippers on and paper bags around her, but she’s also alone. There’s fear around being destitute, but also alone, which is not even a money thing.”

On the more practical side of the fear, she points to an “across-the-board failure” when it comes to having both financial planning skills and an awareness of one’s own finances. “Even really successful women don’t know what they need, and then they are too busy making it to know how far it will go,” Blayney noted. “When you don’t know what you have, you’re not empowered, and so there’s that secret fear that you don’t have enough.”

Michelle Matson, author of “Rich Chick” and vice president of Matson Money, a Cincinnati-based investment advisory firm, referred to “bag lady syndrome” in a 2012 Forbes story about women’s money fears.

“It can paralyze you,” she said. “You don’t know what to do, so you don’t do anything.” But the easiest way to overcome a fear is to face it, she said, advising women to start focusing on their financial health right away.

Blayney concurs, adding that working with a “fiduciary advisor,” or one who is bound by regulations to put a client’s interests ahead of his or her own, is of utmost importance—especially since women often seek advisement in times of crisis, such as during a divorce. “We have to be able to rely on a competent advisor whom we can trust,” she stressed.

Related:
Retirement Planning Musts for Women
Nature or Nurture? Why Women Don't Plan for Retirement
Money in the Bank: How to Teach Your Kids to Save