Ladies -- do you have a minute? Permit me to scare you. According to our friends at the U.S. Department of Labor:

  • Of the 59 million wage and salaried women working in the United States as of June 2000, less than half participate in a pension plan.

  • Women are more likely to work in part-time jobs that don't qualify for pension coverage, or to work fewer years in pension-covered employment because of interruptions in their careers to take care of family members.

  • On average, a female retiring at age 55 can expect to live another 27 years, four years longer than a male retiring at the same age, and needs to save for these extra years.

  • Studies indicate that women tend to invest more conservatively than men, receiving lower rates of return from their investment over time, thus reducing the amount of savings they have at retirement.

The news isn't even great for those women who do sock money away for retirement, in a 401(k) plan. In a CBS MarketWatch article about the need to reform 401(k) plans, columnist Robert Powell made some good points. He noted that since women live longer, if they choose to use 401(k) funds to buy an annuity that kicks out income yearly for the rest of their lives, they'll end up with a smaller monthly payout. (By contrast, women and men are treated pretty much the same by traditional pension plans and Social Security.) The trend toward 401(k) plans and away from traditional pensions will put more women at this disadvantage.

There is some good news, though. 401(k) plans can be very effective ways to save for your golden days, especially for those who don't stay in one job for a long time. And reforms are indeed being suggested, such as incorporating into 401(k) plans some equalizing features. The (not-unbiased) National Association for Variable Annuities is pushing to make at least 50% of annuity income tax-free, for example.

Retirement planning isn't simple, but it's absolutely critical that you don't neglect it. Let us help. Learn more in our Retirement Center, and grab a free sample of our Rule Your Retirement newsletter, too, while you're at it. (Take advantage of a special deal we're offering right now -- if you sign up for a free trial of the newsletter, we'll toss in a free copy of Fool co-founders David and Tom Gardner's book Money After 40.) By planning effectively, even women who live long lives can enjoy comfortable retirements.

And by the way, if thinking about investing makes your head hurt and you'd like an actual person (a financial pro, no less) to talk to about your financial situation, look into our TMF Money Advisor. It's a valuable service we're offering, featuring customized independent advice from a variety of objective financial experts. (And you can try it for free, too.)

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.