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For women, retirement is even riskier

Just 14 percent of women in the workforce are "very confident" in their ability to fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle, and 54 percent plan to retire after age 65 or not at all. Those are two of the telling facts from " Women and Retirement," an insightful new study from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

"Women face greater challenges than men when it comes to planning for retirement," said Catherine Collinson, author of the study and president of the center, "but there are action steps we can take."

For instance, save more. Spend less. Work longer. Sure, you've heard these "solutions" before, but they illustrate the difficulties of retirement planning -- and the reality that no magic bullet will solve all your problems.

One challenge that's often unique to women is gaps in their work career, either due to child-rearing early on or caring for aging parents when women are in their 50s and 60s. During these gaps, women aren't earning money to save for retirement, and when they're ready to return to work, they often find it difficult to reenter the workforce at pay levels that will support retirement savings.

Collinson urges women to think through all the implications of a career gap. For instance, a woman might think it's less costly to be a stay-at-home parent compared to paying for child care, but that calculus may simply compare forgone salary to child-care costs.

When you consider the domino effect of the gap in retirement savings and the eventual need to reenter the workforce, the decision could easily tip the other way. Instead of leaving a job to become a full-time, stay-at-home mom, you could consider exploring alternatives that keep you in the workplace and maintain your skills and contacts, such as part-time work.

Collinson acknowledged this is a personal decision that you should make by considering all of your family's needs and goals.

According to Collinson, one of the most important things women (and men) should do is make retirement planning a topic of conversation with family and close friends. These conversations can help bring to the surface all the implications, goals and resources that might be available.

Woman and men should also take advantage of any help they might be able to get from their employers, which are more likely these days to offer retirement planning advice and tools. The Transamerica study urges all workers to seek out this help, calculate the amounts you need to save and then try to save at a level that will help you achieve your goals.

Two bits of good news from the Transamerica study: Two-thirds of women are offered a 401(k) or similar plan at work, and over three-fourths of women participate in these plans, with a median contribution of 7 percent of pay. Add employer-matching contributions, and you might be getting in the neighborhood of adequate savings amounts, although you'll want to do your own calculations to take into account your own situation.

Another possible alternative to quitting your full-time job to stay home with the kids is to consider part-time work. Today, more employers are willing to use flexible schedules to accommodate good employees who have family needs, whether for child-rearing or caring for aging parents. Simply asking your employer can be the first step to a workable solution.

The Transamerica study also focused on late-life challenges. Most (64 percent) boomer women don't have a backup plan if forced into retirement earlier than they expect. Of the women who plan to take time out of their working careers to be a caregiver, two-thirds believe it will impair their ability to save for retirement. In reality, that may be closer to 100 percent. Once again, talking about your options with family and employers is an important step to help you identify all your options.

"The big aha! for me is that these issues and challenges are universal," said Collinson, who talked to CBS MoneyWatch from an International Women's Day conference she was attending in Europe. "Women everywhere are hungry for information that's easy to understand and act upon."

Collinson's goal is to convince women and men that these are serious challenges needing thoughtful action steps but not to create so much fear that people simply give up out of hopelessness. A worthy cause!

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