March is Women’s History Month, an important time to empower women about their finances, and one area women underestimate their contribution to their families’ economic well-being is by lacking sufficient life insurance, says the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

The I.I.I. raises an important point. A national poll by wholesaleinsurance.net found that 43 percent of adult women have no life insurance and among those that are insured, many are severely underinsured, carrying just one-fourth of the amount that would likely be needed by their life insurance policies’ beneficiaries.

Indeed, women who are a family’s primary breadwinner carry 31 percent less life insurance than their male counterparts, even as a growing number of women earn as much, if not more, than their husbands, says the I.I.I.

Loretta Worters, vice president with the I.I.I., notes:

Ironically, 100 years ago women weren’t even able to buy life insurance. Today, women can protect their finances, but they aren’t buying the coverage or, if they are, it isn’t enough.”

This leads us to wonder why more women don’t buy adequate life insurance.

Metlife’s 2012 Protecting a Diverse Workforce report offers some interesting perspective on this issue. Its findings confirm that women are less insured with only twice their income in life insurance coverage, compared to men, who are covered for nearly three times their earnings.

However, the tendency for women to be underinsured is not due to a lack of awareness about life insurance. Metlife reported that 50 percent of women who earn $50,000 or more in income believe they don’t have as much coverage as they need, versus 39 percent of men.

Instead, the report found that more women than men find the process of choosing the right life insurance product to be complex. Some 67 percent of women believe that selecting the right life insurance product is a complicated process, compared with 59 percent of men.

MetLife noted that this belief also extends to selecting the right amount of coverage, where some 59 percent of women feel it can be a complicated process, compared to 50 percent of men.

Another key takeaway from the MetLife study is a difference in the perceived purpose of life insurance among men and women.

Not only do men place a higher value on insuring their income and protecting their financial security than women, but about half of women view life insurance primarily for burial and final expenses, compared to 40 percent of men.

As MetLife says:

This presents the opportunity to educate and reinforce the income protection role of this product, especially with women.”

Check out a recent article in Employee Benefit News for further discussion of the psychological and financial barriers to women buying adequate life insurance.