No one to fall back on

As the study pointed out, health problems and job loss are especially serious for single people, because they cannot fall back on the economic resources of a partner.

Virginia resident Marisa Minor, 45, knows what that's like. Minor was used to being the one on whom others in her family depended, until job loss and health issues hit. Now she feels the lack of a partner who might have been able to blunt the financial impact of those setbacks.

"I feel like I have to begin again from the beginning," Minor wrote on Facebook. "I think, what type of retirement am I now going to have for myself?"

Not having that second income is somewhat analogous to not coming from a family with money, Fernandez said.

"It's nice to have some financial safety net in life, and single people often don't have it, certainly not from a second wage earner," she said.

So singles should give up any hope of retirement, right? Don't tell that to Christine Tsotsos, 54, who recently retired to Dunedin, Fla., from her job as a schoolteacher.

As a young woman, Tsotsos wasn't dissuaded by teaching's low pay -- "teaching was in my heart" -- and couldn't have cared less about the fact that it came with a pension, even though her mother was thrilled by that fact.

Tsotsos credits her parents for teaching her to save 10% of every paycheck -- and, unintentionally, for giving her a life lesson in what can happen when you depend on others. Her mother was widowed at 43.

"I watched what my mother had to go through financially when my father died," Tsotsos said. "She worked as a school secretary and struggled. I gave her a part of my salary, and this continued until she passed away four years ago. This experience taught me never to rely on anyone financially."

Tsotsos said she made it a point to funnel any "extra" money -- tax refunds, bonuses, awards for teaching excellence -- into her savings account "instead of spending it right away on trivial things." She struggled with department store credit card debt for a while until she opted to stop using her plastic.

"I decided that whatever I wanted I'd pay cash for instead of using credit," Tsotsos said. "I saved separately for holiday spending."

Then, two years before she planned to retire, she got ready to start living on half her teaching income. She trimmed expenses, paid off the last of the credit card debt and used some of her savings to pay off the rest of her mortgage. She wound up teaching an extra year to boost her pension check from 48% of her salary to 51%.

"I think the most important thing is that even with a modest salary -- Florida teachers earn close to the bottom of the national scale -- it can be done," Tsotsos said.

Tips for making it happen

If you're single, here's what you need to know:

"Single people don't get to live like married people." That's what planner Fernandez tells her clients who aren't married or who are going through divorce. Single people typically don't have as much income or the cushion provided by a potential second earner. There's less margin for error, so you need to make sure you're living well within your means and saving for the future.

Denial and despair aren't your friends. You can use depressing statistics above as a wake-up call, rather than as an excuse to do nothing. Anything you save now can help boost your standard of living later in retirement. Delaying and hoping to be rescued -- by a future partner or a lottery ticket -- isn't a rational financial plan.

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Pay attention to benefits. Finding any job in this economy can be tough, let alone a job with decent benefits or one that comes with an increasingly elusive traditional pension. But when you have a choice, opting for a position with good benefits can give you more financial security. If you can't find a job with a pension, shoot for one that has a 401k with a match. Over time, good savers can actually accumulate a bigger retirement benefit with a 401k than they could with most traditional pensions, according the Center for Retirement Research's director, Alicia Munnell. But that requires diligent saving and not cashing out.

Get disability and long-term-care coverage if you can. You may not be able to qualify if you already have health issues, and sometimes the policies are too expensive. But your employer may offer affordable plans, so check there first. If not, an independent insurance agent can help you review your options.

Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.