"The fact that women over 65 are 80% more likely than men to fall into poverty in their retirement years is tragic and should be a call to action for policymakers," Oakley adds. "Women are financially disadvantaged because we still earn less than men and we typically take time out of our careers for caregiving -- both of which reduce our ability to prepare for retirement. As a result, more women are spending their retirement years working."
The NIRS study numbers back that sentiment up:
-- In 2010, men received $17,856 in median retirement income from a pension, whereas women received $12,00 -- or 33% less.
-- In 2014, the median amount accumulated in these savings accounts was $36,875 for men and $24,446 for women -- or 34% less, according to Vanguard.
-- Widowed women are twice as likely to be living in poverty than their male counterparts. White and black women are almost twice as likely to be living in poverty than their male counterparts during retirement.
-- Even though the median household incomes of individuals aged 65 and older has increased, women have 26% less income than men.
-- Women who are widowed, divorced, and over age 70 rely on Social Security benefits for a majority of their income.
The NIRS is advocating a multi-pronged approach to solidifying women's tenuous grip on a stable retirement, calling for, among other steps, strengthening Social Security benefits for women, increasing retirement plan coverage through auto enrollment in individual retirement accounts and providing spousal protections in defined contribution accounts.
Yet even those aggressive steps may not be enough to help America's impoverished women in retirement. "Women tend to be in lower paying professions in the first place," notes Coleen Pantalone, a finance professor at the D'Amore McKim School of Business, at Northeastern University.
While that scenario is changing, there is more to be done and it really starts early on in education, Pantalone adds. "Look at most engineering classes today or science classes -- other than biology -- and the ratios tell the story," she says. "Women aren't entering these fields in equal numbers as men and, even in the 21st century, the culture and long-engrained biases in these fields still makes it tough for many women to persist."
Additionally, women, much more often then men, step out of the workforce to take care of children, thus compounding the earning and income problem. "It's very hard to get a career back on track after a step-out," Pantalone says. "And, even if you do make it back, you've lost many years of raises and contributions to retirement plans."
Steve Anzuoni, a financial services specialist with Fairway Financial in South Yarmouth, Mass., agrees, noting that women work, on average, 12 fewer years than men do over the course of their careers -- often because they take time off work to raise kids or take care of a sick spouse or aging parents.
But in Anzuoni's mind, Uncle Sam isn't stepping up and helping older women when they need it most. "The federal government just made it even harder for many women," he explains. "There are provisions within Social Security meant to boost income for many people by allowing them to suspend their own benefits and claim benefits based on their spouse or even an ex-spouse. These provisions really helped bridge the retirement income gap. But both are being phased out to help keep Social Security from running out of money."