In our current shaky economy, everyone is worried about having enough money for retirement, but why is women’s retirement more at risk than men’s? According to both a recent article from the Associated Press and a post from the Wall Street Journal, it is because women earn less than men, women take more time off work to care for children and other relatives, women live longer than men, and older women are more likely than men to live alone.

The Associated Press reports that based on 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data, women make about 77 percent of men’s salaries, and the AARP says that three out of five working women earn less than $30,000 a year. Furthermore, the average woman spends about 12 years out of the workforce caring for family, reducing the amount of money she can save.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that women still outlive men by five to seven years, on average, and by age 85, women make up 68 percent of their age group. Forty percent of these women over 65 live alone, compared with 19 percent of men.

The aging generation of baby boomers, who will require not only living incomes but also funds for adequate health care, make these statistics alarming for both retirees and their children. President of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement Cindy Hounsell says, “Women are just not taking hold of their financial futures. That’s really what needs to happen.”

With so many pressing financial concerns, it can be difficult to plan for the future. However, women must recognize that we are at risk for retirement and prepare accordingly.

In “7 Tips to Improve Women’s Retirement Prospects,” Associated Press Finance Writer Dave Carpenter’s first tip for women is to save more. This seems obvious, but Carpenter is pointing out that women should be more aware of the long-term consequences of our spending habits and begin planning for retirement early. He also suggests that women contribute to separate retirement accounts, rather than relying on our husband’s IRA, and that we invest more aggressively. We can plan ahead in other ways, by researching community retirement resources, considering long-term care insurance, and planning to be alone in case spouses or family cannot provide for us.

The good news is that the earning disparity between genders is slowly closing, and more women are handling household finances and taking charge of their retirement. Still, these harrowing statistics should remind each of us to reexamine our own plans because it is never too early to prepare for retirement. We must also push ourselves to be more open about our finances and seek advice on how best to save and to maximize our investments for our futures.

I know that even at 23, I should be planning for my future, which includes retirement. What are the first steps I should take? What advice do you have for women, young and old, as they plan for retirement?