For the past two decades, American women have been on a remarkable career trajectory as their roles in the workplace continue to change at a rapid pace. Women today earn more college and graduate degrees than men. Women business owners are also growing, with 36.3 percent of all privately held businesses in the United States being women-owned. However, in spite of their economic strides, according to research by Merrill Edge, 59 percent of mass affluent women report a real concern about running out of money in retirement.

In fact, the latest Merrill Edge Report found that men and women alike are insecure about some aspect of their finances, specifically their financial future, retirement savings or income.  However, this insecurity may be compounded for women due to the additional challenges of longer life spans, unique careers and earning patterns.

On average, women tend to live five years longer than men. Because of this, not only can they expect to spend more years in retirement, but they should also consider the fact that a couple’s retirement savings may be diminished by costs related to caring for a partner.

Women also tend to spend about seven years out of the workforce to pursue alternative career paths or care for children or elderly relatives, therefore they tend to have fewer total working years. One thing to consider is that Social Security benefits are calculated based on a person’s highest 35 years of earnings. If a benefit recipient doesn’t have 35 years in the workforce, the Social Security Administration will add zero-earnings years to his or her record to equal 35 years, and may result in lower earnings and benefits.

Whether single or married, it’s important for women to save and invest as much as they can. Here are some practical strategies to help women account for these challenges and build their retirement savings at any age:

Start now to maximize compounding.

Save and invest as soon as you can through your employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401k account, or with automatic investments from your bank or brokerage account into your personal IRA. The sooner you start, the more time your contributions have to take advantage of compound interest and reinvested dividends that have the potential to grow substantially over time in a tax-deferred retirement savings account.

Take advantage of unexpected money

If you receive a lump-sum bonus, insurance payout, tax refund, divorce settlement or inheritance, consider putting some of it toward your retirement. For example, you can apply this “extra” money toward regular expenses to offset an increase in your 401k contribution at work. Or you might invest some of it in a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA if you are eligible. And don’t forget that “catch-up” contributions allow you to invest even more in these accounts if you are age 50 or older.

Take care of your health now to save more for — and in — retirement.

Practicing preventive health care today can lower your health care costs and give you more money to apply to long-term saving for the future. If your company offers a high-deductible health plan, consider contributing to a tax-advantaged health savings account (HSA). Your contributions are 100 percent tax deductible from your gross income, and you pay no federal income tax when you use the money to pay for your qualified health care expenses.

Consider waiting to collect Social Security.

If you can delay receiving your Social Security payments by working longer or using income from other sources first, such as your retirement investments, a company or union pension, an inheritance or survivor benefits, your Social Security benefit grows 8 percent each year until you reach age 70.

For additional insights to help plan for challenges and opportunities women face in saving and investing for retirement, visit an online resource, such as

Christine Baim is director and regional sales manager for Merrill EdgeNeither Merrill Lynch nor any of its affiliates or financial advisors provide legal, tax or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.