Why Millennial Women Have a Money Problem – By Kimberly Palmer June 17, 2014 | 9:05 a.m. EDT

In their 20s, women lag behind their male peers when it comes to saving and earning.

Women have unique challenges when it comes to saving for retirement.

You’ve probably heard that by midlife, women tend to earn less than men and also have less money saved up. That’s not entirely shocking, given that many women opt to scale back their own career ambitions in order to take care of children or parents. What is surprising, though, is just how financially behind 20-something women are compared to their male peers.

Women have unique challenges when it comes to saving for retirement.

Consider these findings from the 2014 Wells Fargo Millennial Study released last week: College-educated millennial women, who are currently between ages 22 and 33, earn just $63,000 compared to men the same age, who are already bringing in an average of $83,000. Millennial men have also already accumulated higher levels of investable assets: $58,500 versus $31,400.

[Read: The Truth Behind Gen Y’s Financial Optimism.]

On more subjective measures, like how they feel about money, men also rank higher. Millennial women say they are less satisfied and less optimistic about their finances than millennial men, and they are also less likely to call themselves “savers.” In addition, women are more likely to report feeling “overwhelmed” with the amount of debt that they carry.

The study of 1,639 millennials raises some disturbing questions about 20-something women and their financial futures. Why are young women – who have been raised to believe they can do anything – already falling behind their male peers, even before the midlife crunch period when they might scale back careers for family priorities? And are they creating disparities that will only deepen with age and end up haunting them their whole lives?

Even financial experts have a hard time explaining the reasons behind the gender difference, which is at least partially due to the types of majors and careers women choose to pursue. One thing is clear, though: It’s alarming. “The saving disparities that are there are a little distressing for women,” says Karen Wimbish, director of retail retirement at Wells Fargo.

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