(Bloomberg) -- Women age 65 and older live in poverty at higher rates than men even as more of them participate in employer-sponsored retirement plans, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office study.

The median income for women in that age group was about 25 percent lower than for men from 1998 to 2009, and they were twice as likely to live in poverty, according to the report, “Retirement Security: Women Still Face Challenge,” which was released today.

Retired women continue to rely on Social Security at higher rates than retired men, with 16 percent of women and 12 percent of men age 65 and older depending on those payments as their only income in 2010, according to the report.

“Several factors contribute to the higher rate of poverty among elderly women including their tendency to have lower lifetime earnings, take time out of the workforce to care for family members, and outlive their spouses,” according to the study.

Divorce and widowhood had “detrimental effects” for retired women or those entering retirement, and took more of a toll on women’s finances than on men’s, the report said.

While women’s participation in defined-contribution retirement plans increased, they contributed less to those plans than men did, according to the study.

The study’s findings were reported today at a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing. Discussion centered on improving the Social Security Administration’s communication with the public about waiting longer to claim benefits.

“SSA has a responsibility to educate people about their options, and it needs to make sure people understand just how much money they are losing when they take their benefits sooner rather than later,” said Senator Herb Kohl, the Wisconsin Democrat who led the hearing.

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