One of the benefits of the recession is that the constant coverage of the economy has brought retirement savings and retirement benefits into better focus for many Americans, The Hartford Financial Services Group found in a survey of 1,000 adults, conducted by Zeldis Research.

Nearly half, 43%, said retirement benefits are more important to them now that they were at the start of the recession, and 76% said they either “completely” or “mostly” understood their retirement benefits in 2010. In 2009, 65% said they understood the plans.

Both men and women registered improvements in their understanding, with men’s understanding rising to 83%, up from 75% a year ago, and women’s understanding increasing to 69%, up from 56%.

More people are saving, too. The percentage of people participating in a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored defined contribution plan rose to 84%, up from 80% a year earlier.

“With economic issues staring us in the face every day, it appears that consumers are, at least for now, focusing more on preparing for retirement,” said Sharon Ritchey, executive vice president and director of The Harford’s retirement plans group. “We’ve known for a long time that consumers need to save more for retirement and pay closer attention to their retirement savings. Greater awareness of the importance of retirement savings is one of the few positive outcomes of the Great Recession.”

Nonetheless, the economy has made it harder for people to save, with 22% saying they have had to cut back on contributions, and 20% reporting that their employer has either cut back or eliminated matching contributions, up from 16% in 2009.

“When struggling with day-to-day economic issues, it can be difficult for many people to continue their focus on long-term financial issues such as retirement,” Ritchey said. “It takes financial discipline and sometimes sacrifices to prepare financially, so stick to your retirement strategy no matter what the obstacles. Your quality of life in retirement will depend upon it.”

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