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​The alarming retirement shortfall for women

The demographics aren't playing in women's favor, at least when it comes to getting through retirement without going broke.

Because women earn less than men and typically live longer, they will on average have a 26 percent savings gap compared with their male counterparts, according to a recent study from financial services firm Financial Finesse. An average 45-year-old woman today is likely to have a retirement savings gap of $268,404 by the time she reaches 65, the group found.

The double-whammy of lifelong lower earnings combined with a longer life expectancy means women need to set aside $126 for every $100 saved by men -- at least if they want to survive retirement without ending up in dire straits.

Still, it's not as if men are getting off scot-free, given that the typical 45-year-old will end up with a $212,256 shortfall by the time he reaches retirement age, the study found.

"Everybody will have to take a lifestyle cut in retirement if they don't make some changes between now and retirement," said Kelley Long, a financial planner with Financial Finesse.

But the issues are especially acute for women, who need to be thinking about and planning for these issues, no matter what their age, Long said. Women in their 20s need to start saving if they haven't already, and failing to take a company match in an employer's retirement program can be a costly mistake. Only 80 percent of women surveyed by Financial Finesse take their company's full match, compared with 86 percent of men.

Previous research has found that women not only have less set aside than men for retirement, but that very few are confident about their retirements. Only 14 percent of women in the workforce believe they'll be able to retire with a comfortable lifestyle, a Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found earlier this year.

A career gap can add to women's risk and uncertainty, given that so many take time off from work to take care of children or older relatives. That also plays into the costs of retirement for women, Long said.

"The fact of the matter is women tend to live longer than men. When men are at the end of their lives, they tend to have a wife to take care of them," she said.

The flip side, of course, is that it's more likely older women will reach the end of their lives without a partner to help take care of them, which raises the likelihood that they'll have to pay for nursing home care, home health aides, or other professional help.

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