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Women Voters 50 and Older Could Decide 2020 Election

COVID-19, retirement security are among the top concerns

A woman is casting her ballot


A woman casts her ballot on the first day of in-person early voting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

En español | As women celebrate the 100th anniversary of securing the constitutional right to vote, their concerns over some of today's most-pressing issues, from COVID-19 to retirement security, are expected to bring them out in record numbers to exercise that right in the 2020 elections.

According to the Pew Research Center, voter turnout has been higher among women than men dating back to at least 1984. In the 2016 presidential election, 63 percent of women turned out, compared with 59 percent of men.

"I call it the ‘worried woman’ constituency,” says Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer. AARP did a series of polls in September in 11 battleground states. Each survey found that women are more concerned than men about getting the coronavirus. Plus, they are more worried about paying for health care and being able to afford to retire.

For example, AARP's September polls showed that in Pennsylvania, nearly a quarter of women ages 50 to 64 said they couldn't afford to pay a medical bill or they had rationed the medication they take because of cost. Only 10 percent of men said the same. In Michigan, 55 percent of female respondents in that age group worried about being able to afford health care, compared with 41 percent of men.

"We are the caretakers,” says Beverly Cotton, a 67-year-old retired accountant from New Hampshire. “We're the ones who are more involved in managing the health care for our families. We're more aware of what it means to have good coverage, bad coverage and no coverage and what that means to our families.”

Women in all 11 states polled reported being more worried about getting COVID-19 than men. In Wisconsin, 60 percent of women over age 50 were fearful of becoming infected, compared with 48 percent of men. And in Arizona, 78 percent of women worried about getting the virus; that was true of 64 percent of men.

Economic concerns also dominate

Beverly Cotton

Courtesy Beverly Cotton

Beverly Cotton, 67, from New Hampshire.

"We're the ones who are more involved in managing the health care for our families. We're more aware of what it means to have good coverage, bad coverage and no coverage and what that means to our families."

— Beverly Cotton

"Women have, for a long time, been more worried about retirement security, in part because they're more worried about being on their own,” says Celinda Lake, a veteran Democratic pollster. In the U.S., on average, women live five years longer than men, according to life expectancy data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Social Security is “of exceptional importance,” says Jean Nofles, 78, of Denver. “It's a right. It's something that we have earned, and I hate to see it being played with. Too many older people have that as their sole source of income."

According to an October report by the New School's Retirement Equity Lab, older women have faced higher rates of job loss than older men since the beginning of the pandemic. During each month between April and September, the report states, women were 38 percent more likely than men to become unemployed.

The coronavirus has added an extra layer of concern for older women already worried about being able to afford to retire, LeaMond said at a forum on older voters that AARP sponsored this week with The Hill newspaper. Women, she said, are not only “being paid less in jobs than their male counterparts” but also are often the ones in the family who take more time out of the workforce to care for children or parents.

AARP's polls reflect women's economic concerns. When it comes to fears about Social Security, women are more worried than men about benefits being cut: 78 percent versus 64 percent in Arizona; 80 percent versus 61 percent in Wisconsin. Women are also more anxious about being able to afford to retire. In Michigan, 84 percent of women reported being worried, compared with 60 percent of men; in Wisconsin, it's 63 percent of women versus 50 percent of men.

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