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Nearly half of women fear life as a bag lady

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They may have money in their purses and a decent salary, but many women fear they'll lose their income and end up a bag lady, forgotten and destitute.

A "startling" 90 percent of women say they feel financially insecure, according to a survey of almost 1,925 women released yesterday by Allianz, a Minnesota-based life insurance company.

Almost half are troubled by a "tremendous fear of becoming a bag lady" -- 46 percent of women overall, and 48 percent of those with an annual income of more than $100,000. An additional 57 percent are sorry they had not learned more about money matters in school.

Such concerns foster an array of behaviors and thoughts.

Women, for example, are twice as likely as men -- 18 percent to 9 percent -- to set aside a secret stash of money, the study found. Roughly the same number counseled their daughters to do the same. And the feminine thrill of shopping took a back seat to practicality: Two-thirds said the best thing about having money is the feeling of security it brought them, rather than buying power or status.

"They want to know they can handle what might lie in front of them," said Ken Dychtwald, a gerontologist who consulted on the project.

Women have made substantial financial progress, the study said, noting their median income has increased 60 percent in the past three decades. They are expected to control 60 percent of U.S. wealth by 2010. Half of all stock market investors also are women.

And yes, men and women have different attitudes about money, which often spawns disagreements between the sexes. Women, for example, think financial arguments revolve around "power and control" while men say it's a matter of trust.

Are American men unnerved by financially independent women? Not likely. According to a related Allianz poll, more than 90 percent found such a quality to be "sexy."

Both polls were conducted May 4 to July 5, and have a margin of error of two percentage points.

Meanwhile, "the adage of 'marrying well' no longer works," the study states.

Indeed, only 8 percent of female respondents said they hoped a man would solve their financial woes. More than one-third considered themselves financially competent, almost a quarter said they had a financial partnership with their spouse and 18 percent said they felt financially "empowered." But 18 percent said they were confused and worried by money.

"Money fears of women are complicated. They fear failure, or making mistakes. They fear they are expendable. Their fear of being poor, however, has topped the list for two decades," said Judith Briles, a Denver financial adviser and author of 23 books on money management.

It seems an ingrained girl thing, though.

"Bag lady syndrome is a fear many women share that their financial security could disappear in a heartbeat, leaving them homeless, penniless and destitute," MSN money columnist Jay McDonald wrote in January. "Lily Tomlin, Gloria Steinem, Shirley MacLaine and Katie Couric all admit to having a bag lady in their anxiety closet."

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