Advisors crafting a client's financial plan ask plenty of questions as they examine risk tolerance, children's college plans, and retirement goals. Now, a new study suggests there's another surprising factor when working with women clients: a close relative who has had breast cancer.
Research from the University of Utah Department of Family and Consumer Studies published in the journal Psycho-Onocology finds that women with a family history of breast cancer tend to be less prepared for, or focused on, retirement.
"Our research suggests that the stressors experienced by close female relatives of women who have had breast cancer may lead to behaviors and attitudes that have consequences for their post-retirement quality of life," the study reports. "We find consistent evidence that women with a mother and/or sister who had a breast cancer diagnosis are significantly less likely to engage in retirement preparation activities than otherwise similar women with no family history."
The article, "Putting it off: family breast cancer history and women's retirement planning," is the work of professors Cathleen D. Zick, Ph.D.; Robert N. Mayer, Ph.D.; and Ken R. Smith, Ph.D. It was completed with the support of funding from the National Institute on Aging.
Zick says an advisor may want to consider that a family history of illness could be a hidden factor playing sub-consciously in a client's mind. The client herself may not even realize it.
"As a financial advisor, just understanding what health concerns clients may be grappling with could be a help," she said. "Even asking the question more broadly may help start the conversation."
The study, which incorporated focus groups and surveys of some 3,000 Utah women, surmises that as the media has focused on the potential familial link to breast cancer, women who have a close relative stricken with the disease may have become overly sensitized to the potential for contracting the disease.
Additionally, the study finds, today's medical system leans heavily on outpatient care, making family members part of the caregiving team, and potentially disrupting their own financial lives.
One study participant told researchers that thinking about financial planning made her think of end-of-life scenarios, including the possibility of cancer, and she just wanted to push it out of her mind.
Zick said there is room for more research into how other familial health histories could affect investor perceptions, both women and men, and researchers have been working with genetic counselors at the University of Utah to see if there are ways for counselors to incorporate concerns about family health histories into a larger discussion about life choices and planning.
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