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Women Still Far Behind in Retirement Plans

COLUMBUS, Ohio ( TheStreet) -- We've all seen headlines calling out the retirement savings crisis facing American workers and the need for them to take steps to protect their financial futures. One aspect of this issue that deserves more attention is the role gender can play in retirement readiness.

Several new studies have focused on this topic, including a Harris Interactive survey last year sponsored by Nationwide Financial Services (NFS), finding women's average defined contribution plan balances are 40% smaller than men's and that they meet with financial advisers less frequently.

Women facing retirement have gender-based obstacles to overcome, but careful planning can help.

When planning for retirement, there are three main obstacles women must overcome:

Longevity
Women live an average of five years longer than men and are 10 times as likely to reach age 85, according to the American Association for Long-term Care Insurance. Longer life expectancies put women at greater risk of outliving their retirement assets and increase their chances of incurring long-term care costs. Women that live longer than their spouse may also face reduced household income from Social Security and pensions.

One way women can help mitigate their longevity risk is with products, such as annuities, that can offer a guaranteed stream of income for life. Women should also consider whether they could benefit from some form of long-term care insurance to help manage costs when they reach old age.

Time out of the work force
Women are the primary caregivers in this country and, according to the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement, typically work 12 years less than men over their lifetime to care for children and other family members. While out of the work force, women are not able to build their pension benefits, pay into Social Security or contribute money to an employer's 401(k), all of which can hurt retirement income.

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