Whether they hold down jobs or take care of the household, women contribute to their families' financial well-being in many ways. As such, they need to protect their loved ones by securing life insurance.

Yet 43% of U.S. women don't have a life insurance policy in place, and among those who do have one, many are underinsured. Furthermore, despite the fact that women make up 57% of the U.S. labor force, they carry 31% less life insurance than their male counterparts.

If you're currently without a life insurance policy, it pays to explore your options for getting coverage. And the sooner you do, the better.

Why you need life insurance

Life insurance isn't gender-dependent. Essentially, you need life insurance if you have people in your life who depend on you financially or who stand to suffer financially if you were to pass away.

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Imagine you're married and earn $60,000 a year and your income is used to help cover the mortgage, feed your kids, and pay for life's many expenses. Would your spouse manage to foot those bills alone if that income of yours were to go away?

Even if you don't earn money, it pays to secure life insurance if your passing would negatively impact your family's finances. Let's say you don't work, but rather, stay home to watch your two children so that your spouse can work. Let's also assume that it would cost $30,000 a year to put your children into a day-care center. If you were to pass away, your spouse would have no choice but to bear that expense in order to keep his or her job. And that could constitute a major financial blow for your family.

That's why you absolutely need life insurance, even if your contributions to your household aren't financial in nature. And the earlier in life you apply for coverage, the greater your chances of not only getting approved, but snagging a more favorable rate on your premiums.

The right life insurance for you

Not all life insurance is created equal, so your goal should be to find a policy that meets your family's financial needs at a price you can afford. Life insurance can be broken down into two main categories: term versus permanent. As the name implies, term life insurance only covers you for a specific period of time. Once that term runs out, you get no money from your policy if you don't pass away during your coverage period -- which is technically a good thing, since it means you lived.

Permanent life insurance, by contrast, covers you forever. It also accumulates a cash value, which you can choose to borrow against or even surrender and cash out later in life if the need or desire arises. Though permanent life insurance offers more comprehensive coverage, it tends to be much more expensive than term life insurance, so that's a factor you'll need to consider.

You'll also need to determine how much of a death benefit you want your family to receive, keeping in mind that the higher that number, the more you'll pay. You might select a death benefit equal to a certain number of years times your current salary. For example, if you earn $60,000 a year and want to provide your family with a decade of earnings, you'd get a $600,000 policy. If you don't work, you might figure out the cost of child care times the number of years you'd need it for, and go with that number.

If you're not sure how much coverage to secure, it pays to consult with a financial advisor who can inquire about your family's needs and goals to help you nail down that number. Either way, life insurance is one thing you don't want to put off, because if tragedy strikes and you're uninsured, your family's suffering might compound exponentially.