NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Social Security's Gender Gap

May 26, 2000

Women make up nearly two-thirds of Social Security recipients and are significantly more dependent on their monthly checks than men. So women have a greater stake in Social Security reform.

  • Overall, 13 percent of elderly women live in poverty -- defined as $7,990 a year for a single senior -- versus 7 percent of elderly men.
  • The formula used to calculate Social Security benefits is based on a 35-year career -- but the average women works 27 years versus 39 years for men.
  • Even women who work 35 years are more likely to hold lower-paying jobs than men and are more likely to hold part-time jobs -- thereby accumulating a smaller account.
  • Also, women are less likely to stay in a job long enough to qualify for a pension from their employer.

Political observers expect a push to increase divorced women's spousal benefit from 50 percent of their ex-husbands' benefits to 75 percent. Efforts will also be made to ensure that widows are not penalized by their husbands' decisions to retire early -- as happens now.

Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore has proposed Social Security benefit increases that would eat up as much as 5 percent of the $2.2 trillion Social Security surplus over the next decade.

Source: Susan B. Garland, "Making Social Security More Women-Friendly," Business Week, May 22, 2000.


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