We had a family dinner this week – something that, due to Covid-19and the fact my sister lives several hours away, hasn’t happened for a while. Amongst the “catch up” topics of wedding planning, lockdown weight gain, and getting used to the “new normal”, there was suddenly the direct question from my sister of “How’s your menopause?”….I will admit, I immediately worried that I had sprouting hair from my chin, or that there were significant sweat patches forming on my “nice jeans and a top” outfit and I responded with that older sister look of “how very dare you ask me this over the dessert menu!”.
But, the truth is, it wasn’t the first time this week that the “time of life” conversation had taken place in a social setting – the previous evening I had been out with girlfriends, for some food and a drink, some of whom I hadn’t seen in person since the first lockdown was announced. Now, we are all of a similar age, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, but the early conversation included mood swings, rapid temperature changes, the increasing size of my cleavage, and the science of strategic placing of HRT patches!! We certainly hadn’t been having THIS sort of conversation when we last met up in a pub garden 18 months ago!
Now, although I indicated shock at the fact my sister asked me about this….the truth is, HOW BLOODY FANTASTIC that we are becoming comfortable enough to do so!
Half the population of the world are going to go through this at some point, and the other half are going to be living with, related to, or working alongside someone going through it too. So it’s vital that we get comfortable with making it normal!
Why am I writing about this in a blog that’s supposed to be about money? Well, firstly the menopause, along with other topics that include mental health issues, and MONEY are still considered taboo by many. The awkward brushing aside of all those topics needs to stop in everyday conversation and we need to do our bit in normalizing all those things that are, quite simply, affecting us all in one way or another.
So, how does the menopause impact women, and wider society, financially?
Women aged 50-64 are the fastest growing, economically active group in the UK with almost 4.5 million in this age bracket still in employment (according to the ONS). This is the time when the 30+ years of our industry/career knowledge and experience puts us at the top of our game…and if we’re going to make one big last career move, this is the time when we should be doing it.
But with 1 in 4 women suffering debilitating menopause symptoms, (brain fog, sleepless nights, continuing hot flushes, seriously itchy skin etc), rather than stepping up, many women are feeling the need to step down or to step aside. By doing so, they reduce their hours and take a pro-rata pay cut, or they forfeit the higher salaries, the bigger bonus potential and the extra pension contributions – and the gender wealth gaps widen further. Not only that, but the workplace, the economy has potentially lost the benefit of a lifetime of career experience that can’t necessarily be replaced overnight by someone fresh off the latest Graduate training scheme.
This comes on top of the fact that many of these women will also have taken some sort of career break or reduced working pattern at the earlier stages of their career through maternity leave and the early years of motherhood. We have TWO periods of life where the natural course of being a woman can have far reaching working and financial implications – a double whammy!
We don't choose to go through menopause.
Some might point out that changing your work hours, stepping away from your current role or not going for that last chance at a promotion is your choice. But with an increasing number of employment tribunals in the UK citing employer responses to the menopause, it is clear that we have some work to do in order to deal with what is, after all, an inevitable time of life for half of us. It is estimated that around 14 million working days are lost each year to the symptoms of menopause - that is a phenomenal cost to the UK economy.
But it’s not just work where the financial implications can be felt. The cost of menopause, and women’s natural aging in general, is widely spread – our skin changes significantly, as does our hair. No longer are we likely to get away with cheap shampoo and moisturiser if we want to stop ourselves suddenly “looking old”. The quality of our cosmetics, whether foundation to cover our newly developed lines, eye make up that doesn’t irritate our drying eyelids or lippy that doesn’t make our pout any thinner than it already is, it is likely that we are looking up the cost scale, rather than down it.
The clothes we fashioned as we sauntered through our 40’s with that whole “life begins” approach, don’t work quite so well as our mid life body shapes change and the additional inches are so much harder to shift than they were before….and so we look to replenish our wardrobes so that we don’t resign ourselves to our lockdown leggings and a baggy top for the rest of our days.
Ok, so buying new clothes might be nothing new, but have you tried getting a reasonably priced, comfortable and flattering pair of jeans in mid-life? Is it too much to not want to suddenly default to elasticated waists and crimpolene just because of this hormonal horror? I didn’t wake up one day aged 50 ½ and suddenly decide that dressing like my Great-Aunt was where I was at! I want to be fabulous in my 50s, not frumpy!
Although clothes and make-up might be considered an optional expense by many and will be accompanied by some people saying we should just accept our ageing with grace, there are other financial costs that have a more serious element to them.
The NHS is under pressure – we know that, and Covid hasn’t helped. But as has been highlighted in the media over recent months, there are very few menopause specialists in our GP surgeries. Strange, really, when you consider how many of us have the potential to be presenting with severe symptoms which can be managed relatively easily. This means that women who are suffering are struggling to get a diagnosis and treatment. This drives them to pay for private consultations and prescriptions for HRT because they feel that they have no option. Those consultations are not cheap. Or while they wait for treatment that can help them manage their symptoms, they struggle at work – with all the implications already mentioned above.
Alongside that, as we seek to manage our symptoms more “naturally” we are spending an absolute fortune on supplements from health food shops, or online vitamin suppliers with the desperate hope that they will stop our hair falling out, improve our sleep, ease our itching skin or re-discover our libido.
Which brings me on to the next life changer….this age group has a significant rate of divorce. According to the most recent Census, the percentage of adults aged 55-64 who divorce is much higher than for younger couples. Menopause won’t be the only cause of a relationship break down, of course, but it is not difficult to see why couples during this time find it difficult to accept and manage these changes.
Financially, of course, that potentially has a huge impact – with the need to stand on your own two financial feet thrust upon you. Whilst you may have some savings or still be earning and able to manage, a significant number of women in this age group are still financially reliant on their partner, or are working part time, so don’t have the regular income or investment pot to rely on during this new curve-ball. The legal side of separation and the financial arrangements often takes years to finalise so this can be a very difficult time, on top of an already very difficult time.
So, what can we do to be ready for all this? Not just for ourselves, but what can we do to make the mid-life of our daughters and granddaughters better?
Well, firstly we can talk about it – make it a subject where we don’t recoil at the mere mention of the words “hot flush”. Be honest, not embarrassed, about our brain fog, and explain our current exhaustion as being the result of several nights of poor sleep rather than just being seen as being in yet another bad mood. Feeling able to ask, and answer, questions about this time of life shouldn’t be relegated to an awkward conversation with your mother or resorting to diagnosing your symptoms on Google because you’re too embarrassed to speak up.
Workplaces can do their bit by understanding that this is not something that women can avoid, and also that it is not going to last forever. Systems need to be in place to help navigate this period in time so that the employer doesn’t lose a valuable member of their team long term, the industry doesn’t lose an experienced contributor, and the employee doesn’t lose everything she has worked for over the previous 30 years! Ongoing training and education in this area is just as vital as it is for mental health and diversification.
As women, we can take responsibility for our finances too – and be more prepared for some of those extra costs, whatever our current age. Whether it is making more of our pension contributions to build up an income that we may be able to access after 55, having an increasing savings and investment pot that we can dip into for temporary changes in earnings, or increased medical costs, having a better spending plan in place so that we can accommodate the extra costs of hair products and flattering clothing, getting on top of our credit cards so that we don’t face additional stresses at an already stressful time, and having funds of our own so if life throws us a curve ball and we suddenly find ourselves on our own, we know we can remain independent and maintain a roof over our heads.
Phew, a lot to talk about, and I’ve really only scratched the surface. This is an area that I am passionate about sharing – bridging the gender wealth and investment gaps is a huge part of what I am all about, and this is a topic that is currently preventing those gaps from being bridged. You can be sure that there will be more to come from me on the subject.
In the meantime, I’m just off to find my tweezers and the desk fan…..
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