Will your 401(k) ever bounce back? Maybe not, if you're older or don't contribute much

As the stock market continues to swoon, it's tempting to not even look at your retirement savings account balances. But for those who peek -- and then wonder how long it'll take to undo the damage -- new research by a think tank that studies employee benefits isn't very encouraging.

Older employees who've worked for the same company for a long time got hit hard, according to the study by Employee Benefits Research Institute research director Jack VanDerhei. So did people with balances of more than $200,000. Members of both groups saw average losses of more than 25 percent in 2008.

Here's the really bad news: For as many as three in 10 older workers, VanDerhei found, a prolonged bear market for stocks may mean their retirement savings will never recover the value they had at the beginning of last year. He examined a database including information on some 21 million 401(k) participants.