A woman retiree in the U.S. is far more likely than a man to face economic hardship, or even poverty, says a new study written by Cindy Hounsell, president of the Women's Institute for Secure Retirement (WISER) in Washington, D.C.

   The study, "The Female Factor 2008: Why Women are at Greater Financial Risk in Retirement," posits that women face unique challenges that could jeopardize the economic security of their retirement years. Among them is that women on average spend fewer years in the workforce than men, and earn $0.77 for every $1 earned by men--the median salary for women working full-time in 2006 was $32,515 versus $42,261 for men. African-American women earned a median salary of $27,535 and Hispanic women earned just $22,285.

   Only 22% of women over the age of 65 received income from an employer-sponsored retirement plan in 2004 (the year used in the study), compared to 29% of men who received such payments. The median annual benefit for these women was $4,488 annually, less than half of what men received. Similarly, the average Social Security benefit for women is $800 a month, compared to $1,177 for men.

   Compounding the income disparity problem is that women typically live five years longer than men, meaning they have to make their retirement money last longer. And older women living alone face higher poverty rates than men-according to the study, about 20% of unmarried elderly women are considered poor.

   The long-term trend isn't particularly encouraging. The study says that a 25-year-old college-educated woman today can expect to make $523,000 less than a 25-year-old college-educated man over a lifetime, which means less savings going into retirement.

   Hounsell's report says lifetime annuities can be an important retirement tool for women by providing a steady income stream and making it easier to manage a nest egg. Her organization is part of an effort to back proposed legislation that would eliminate half of the taxes on income payouts of lifetime annuities, up to $20,000 a year.

   WISER is a nonprofit group that provides basic financial information to low- and moderate-income women ages 18 to 65 to help them be more financially independent.