Women who take charge, do the math, plan for contingencies and work with their partners and/or financial advisors have a better chance of securing their finances in retirement than those who shrink from the process, according to a new study from the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

The MetLife Study of Women, Retirement, and the Extra-Long Life: Implications for Planning shows women face a number of unique risks—including longevity, aging single, lower retirement incomes, greater health care costs and added caregiving responsibilities—and have not planned adequately to address these concerns, leading to a significant shortfall.

The study examines the thinking and practices of mature women, ages 50 to 70, in the context of the "extra" challenges they may experience in retirement. According to the report, women expect to live until age 85, some until age 90, and are more concerned than men about affording health care, long-term care and outliving their assets. Yet, slightly more than half of the women surveyed know the likely amount of their retirement income/assets and only 44% have calculated the amount of their essential expenses.

"The combination of risks for women and their relatively inadequate retirement planning has become known as the 'perilous paradox,' but the message is clear that women are able to avoid that," says Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. "The risks and costs of 'living long and living female' call for an 'affirmative action' plan."

Longer life for American women (8% longer than men on average) is accompanied by a number of additional costs and financial constraints that can lead to greater financial challenges in retirement. As of 2009, women age 65+ had significantly lower annual retirement incomes than men, $21,500 vs. $37,500. They are more likely to need long-term care themselves with a lifetime cost of $124,000, nearly three times that of men ($44,000). A total of 1,007 men and women between the ages 50 and 70 with $50,000 or more in household income, and $100,000 or more in investable assets were surveyed online.

The study recommends the following:

Take charge: Women who take responsibility for their retirement are in a better position to reduce the specific risks of being female. They should be aware of gender-longevity differences and their implications and seek, not generic, but gender-specific information and advice.

Plan for contingencies:  Have a Plan B, including calculations and details for various contingencies. Be sure they account for expenses like long-term care and the health costs related to a woman's longer life. Plan for emergencies; don't defer for "if and when they happen." Consider the implications of "cashing out" resources prematurely, like retirement plan benefits, guaranteed income joint-and-survivor options and Social Security benefits.

Do your own math:  Calculating your needs and resources is the key to planning and saving enough assets. Make sure your income and assets will last your expected lifetime. Use gender-specific estimates and calculations.

The report includes a number of resources women can tap, including Financial Planning for Women: Retirement Calculator (AARP), What Today's Woman Needs to Know and Do: The New Retirement Journey (MetLife Mature Market Institute), What Every Woman Should Know (Social Security Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) and WISER's Financial Planning Workbook: A Collection of Worksheets and Factsheets to Help You Take Control of Your Finances.

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