A new survey from the statistical mavens at the Employee Benefit Research Institute has proven it: Girls rule! But they sort of proved it, in some circumstances, with a hefty dose of overall bad news.

It seems that among full-time, year-round workers, more women than men participate in their employer's retirement plan. It's not a lot more -- 56.4% of women participate, compared with 53.7% of men. That's pretty much where the good news stops for the ladies.

That's because among all workers, men have the edge. (It's less than 1%, boys, so don't get too excited.) It seems that women participate less often in a retirement plan because they have lower earnings overall, and they're more likely to work part-time or less than a full year.

Retirement isn't really a contest between the sexes, though. Presumably, both genders want to stop working someday.

So, with that in mind, let's stop for a second and look at the big picture. This study examined worker participation in two kinds of retirement plans. In one, the employer pays a retired worker a monthly defined benefit, like a traditional pension. In the other, a worker's retirement plan is funded by the employee's contributions, like your typical 401(k). The latter, as the study noted, have become far more common than the former.

Almost three out of five workers can get access to one of these plans through their company or union, yet less than half of us take advantage of them. That's 47% to be exact, a pretty paltry number if you assume that 100% of us probably want to stop working in our golden years.

The trends don't look so great, either:

  • Among full-time, year-round workers, 55 percent participated in a retirement plan. That's less than the year before. (We're about to get ourselves grounded for bad grades, folks.)

  • Participation tends to increase with age, but there's no excuse for the pitiful showing of twentysomethings. Only 18 percent of workers age 21 to 24 take part in a retirement plan, and they're the ones who can gain the most by contributing early!

  • Government workers put the rest of us to shame. About 72% participate in a retirement plan. Compare that with the 36% in the private sector who participate.

What's the solution to this problem? If you haven't done it yet, it's never too late to join the club! There's no secret handshake or funny-looking hat, but you'll be rewarded later when you can stop punching the clock every day. You don't want to work forever, do you?

First, find out whether your employer offers a retirement plan. Ask your human resources department for some information and determine whether you'll have to make contributions. Then find out when you can sign up, and start participating.

Odds are that your retirement plan will be, or will look an awful lot like, a 401(k). Head into the 401(k) Center for more information about how those accounts work and how you can make your investments work for you. The Retirement Center also has some handy advice.

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Looking for ways to make sure your golden years are, well, golden? Check out a 30-day free trial of Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement , where Robert Brokamp and his team can help lead you toward a prosperous future.

Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple welcomes your feedback at marydfool@gmail.com. The Fool has a disclosure policy.