More Americans say they are focusing on saving for retirement, thanks to the impact of the Great Recession on many people’s finances, according to research by the Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. (NYSE: HIG).

The Hartford found 76% percent of respondents said they “completely” or “mostly” understood their retirement plans’ benefits in 2010, up from 65% in 2009.

Women’s understanding of retirement benefits increased sharply, although fewer of them still understood these benefits than did men. Among women, 69% said they completely or mostly understood their benefits in 2010, compared to 56% last year. Men’s understanding rose to 83% from 75% a year ago.

Among all survey participants, 43% said they now view their retirement plan as more important than they did before the economic crisis, and 49% said they view it as just as important as before the recession.

The Hartford also found consumers more likely to participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan today. Among those whose employer offered a 401(k) or other defined contribution plan, 84% were in the plan, up from 80% in 2009. Again, women showed the biggest jump, with 70% participating in their plan in 2010 compared to 61% in 2009. Men’s participation rate jumped to 71%, up 5% from last year.

But of all those surveyed, 22% said poor economic conditions forced them to reduce or eliminate contributions to their plan. Women were twice as likely to have been affected (22% vs. 11% in 2009) while 21% of men also cut back on their retirement savings vs. 15% in 2009.

Matching contributions from employers were reduced or eliminated for 20% of consumers, up from 16% in 2009.

Women were hit harder by employer cutbacks than men were. Among women, 19% reported their employer had cut or stopped its contribution, compared with 14% in 2009. The impact on men was fairly stable, with 21% reporting their employer had changed its contribution this year, compared to 19% in 2009.

-Trevor Thomas