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Selected Research & Analysis: Demographic Characteristics > Marital Status, General

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Marital Status & Poverty
Population Profile (released May 2016)
Spousal-Only Beneficiaries in 2050
Population Projection (released March 2015)
Social Security Retirement Benefit Claiming-Age Combinations Available to Married Couples
Research and Statistics Note No. 2017-01 (released September 2017)
by Brian J. Alleva

The rules for claiming Social Security retired-worker benefits are complex in large part because they offer a potential claimant flexibility in choosing a claiming age most to his or her advantage. The complexity of those rules is multiplied for a married couple, as the potential eligibility for spousal benefits, the couple's age difference, and other factors must also be considered. The number of claiming-age combinations available to a married couple varies widely for couples with different circumstances. This note explores the claiming rules, contingent situations, claiming-age combinations, and benefit amounts available to married couples across a range of respective birth years and benefit levels based on respective earnings histories.

Married Women's Projected Retirement Benefits: An Update
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 76, No. 2 (released May 2016)
by Howard M. Iams

This note examines how changes in women's labor force participation and lifetime earnings will affect the Social Security benefits of future beneficiary wives. The Social Security Administration's Modeling Income in the Near Term (version 7) projects that at least four-fifths of wives in the late baby boom (born 1956–1965) and generation X (born 1966–1975) cohorts will receive their initial Social Security benefits based solely on their own earnings. For wives in those cohorts, most of the average benefit amount (91–92 percent) will be attributable to their own earnings histories.

How Do Trends in Women's Labor Force Activity and Marriage Patterns Affect Social Security Replacement Rates?
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 73, No. 4 (released November 2013)
by April Yanyuan Wu, Nadia S. Karamcheva, Alicia H. Munnell, and Patrick J. Purcell

Changes in the role of women in the economy and in the family have affected both the amount and the type of Social Security benefits they receive in retirement. Women's labor force participation rate increased from less than 40 percent in 1950 to more than 70 percent in 2011. Over much of the same period, marriage rates fell and divorce rates rose. This article examines how women's higher earnings and lower marriage rates have affected Social Security replacement rates over time for individuals and for households.

Pension Plan Participation Among Married Couples
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 73, No. 3 (released August 2013)
by Irena Dushi and Howard M. Iams

This article presents descriptive statistics on pension participation and the types of plans among married couples, using data from the 1996 and 2008 Panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation and Social Security administrative records. The findings indicate that in only 20 percent of couples, neither of the spouses participated in a pension plan; in about 10 percent of couples, the wife was the only one participating in a retirement plan; and in 37 percent of couples, the husband was the only one participating. Despite the substantial changes in pension landscape over the past decade, the findings reveal only modest changes in participation rates and in the types of plans respondents participated in between 1998 and 2009.

The Impact of Changes in Couples' Earnings on Married Women's Social Security Benefits
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 72, No. 1 (released February 2012)
by Barbara A. Butrica and Karen E. Smith

This article uses the Social Security Administration's Modeling Income in the Near Term (version 6) to examine how changes in married women's labor force participation and earnings will impact the Social Security benefits of current and future beneficiary wives. Over the next 30 years, a larger share of wives will be eligible for Social Security benefits based solely on their own earnings, and wives' average Social Security benefits are expected to increase by 50 percent. Despite rising female lifetime earnings, wives' earnings typically remain below those of their husbands, so many wives who are retired-worker-only beneficiaries while their husbands are alive will receive auxiliary benefits when their husbands die.

Earnings Sharing in Social Security: Projected Impacts of Alternative Proposals Using the MINT Model
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 69, No. 1 (released May 2009)
by Howard M. Iams, Gayle L. Reznik, and Christopher R. Tamborini

Earnings sharing is an alternate method of calculating Social Security retirement benefits whereby earnings are assumed to be shared by married couples. This article presents a microsimulation analysis to estimate the impact of three earnings sharing proposals on the aged population of married, divorced, and widowed men and women in 2030. The impact of earnings sharing differs by marital status and sex, as measured by the percentage change in benefits and by the percentage of beneficiaries with increased and reduced benefits.

Cohort Changes in the Retirement Resources of Older Women
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 68, No. 4 (released March 2009)
by Howard M. Iams, John W. R. Phillips, Kristen Robinson, Lionel P. Deang, and Irena Dushi

This article uses different sources of United States data to focus on the retirement resources of women aged 55–64 in 2004, 1994, and 1984. Notable changes have occurred with women's pathways into retirement resulting from increased education and lifetime work experience. There appear marked cohort differences in potential retirement outcomes.

Women, Marriage, and Social Security Benefits Revisited
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 67, No. 4 (released May 2008)
by Christopher R. Tamborini and Kevin Whitman

This article uses a Restricted-Use File of the 2001 Marital History Topical Module to the U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) to examine women's marital histories in relation to Social Security spouse and widow benefit eligibility. To assess marital trends over time, the authors compare SIPP estimates to data reported in Iams and Ycas. 1988 article, "Women, Marriage and Social Security Benefits," which used the 1985 Marital History Supplement to the Current Population Survey. The results shed light on important links between sociodemographic trends in marriage and Social Security beneficiaries. Over three-fourths of women aged 40 to 69 in 2001 already had marital histories that guarantee them the option of a spouse or widow benefit at retirement. However, a smaller proportion of these women would be potentially eligible to receive spouse or widow benefits compared to their counterparts in 1985 due to changes in patterns in marriage, particularly among younger women in the baby-boom cohort. Notable shifts include rising proportions of currently divorced women without a 10-year marriage and never-married women.

The Never-Married in Old Age: Projections and Concerns for the Near Future
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 67, No. 2 (released February 2008)
by Christopher R. Tamborini

This article focuses on a growing yet understudied subgroup of the elderly in the United States—the never-married. The first section, based on data from the Current Population Survey and a review of the academic literature, examines the current circumstances of never-married retirees, particularly their economic and health well-being. The succeeding section uses the Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) model to assess the projected (1) changes in the marital status composition of the future retirement-age population; (2) demographics of future never-married retirees, and (3) economic well-being of never-married retirees. The results highlight important links between marital trends, Social Security, and retirement outcomes and offer insight into some of the characteristics of current and future never-married retirees.

Treatment of Married Couples in the SSI Program
Issue Paper No. 2003-01 (released December 2003)
by Richard Balkus and Susan Wilschke

The Supplemental Security Income program serves as an income source of last resort for elderly or disabled individuals. This analysis identifies how marital status affects benefit rates and the counting of income and resources in determining eligibility.

Using Data for Couples to Project the Distributional Effects of Changes in Social Security Policy
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 62, No. 3 (released January 2000)
by Barbara A. Butrica, Howard M. Iams, and Steven H. Sandell

This article addresses the importance of using data for couples rather than individuals to estimate Social Security benefits. We show how individual data can underestimate actual Social Security benefits, particularly for women, and discuss how its use has implications for policy evaluation.

The Accuracy of Survey-Reported Marital Status: Evidence from Survey Records Matched to Social Security Records
ORES Working Paper No. 80 (released January 1999)
by David A. Weaver

Many researchers have concluded that, in surveys, divorced persons often fail to report accurate marital information. In this paper, I revisit this issue using a new source of data—surveys exactly matched to Social Security data. I find that divorced persons frequently misreport their marital status, but there is evidence that the misreporting is unintentional. A discussion of possible improvements in surveys is presented. Implications for the study of differential mortality and the study of poverty among aged women are discussed.

Earnings of Couples: A Cohort Analysis
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 56, No. 3 (released July 1993)
by Howard M. Iams
Retirement-Age Couples by Type of Wife's Social Security Benefit
ORES Working Paper No. 43 (released June 1990)
by Christine Irick

This study examines the work history and economic circumstances of wives soon after receiving Social Security retirement benefits. Findings are based on a nationally representative sample of married women, aged 62 or over, who received their first benefit either as retired workers or as spouses of retired workers between mid-1980 and mid-1981.

Women, Marriage, and Social Security Benefits
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 51, No. 5 (released May 1988)
by Howard M. Iams and Martynas A. Yčas
Mortality of Older Widows and Wives
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 45, No. 10 (released October 1982)
by Bertram Kestenbaum, Greg Diez, Marvin Younger, and Howard Shiman
Benefits for Individual Retired Workers and Couples Now Approaching Retirement Age
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 45, No. 2 (released February 1982)
by Virginia P. Reno and Anne Dee Rader
Social Security Benefits of Female Retired Workers and Two-Worker Couples
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 45, No. 2 (released February 1982)
by Barbara A. Lingg
Income and Living Arrangements Among Poor Aged Singles
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 44, No. 4 (released April 1981)
by Thomas Tissue and John L. McCoy
Labor-Force Participation of Older Married Women
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 43, No. 8 (released August 1980)
by John C. Henretta and Angela M. O'Rand
Allocation of Time and Resources by Married Couples Approaching Retirement
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 43, No. 4 (released April 1980)
by Robert L. Clark, Thomas Johnson, and Ann Archibald McDermed
Earnings Replacement Rates of Retired Couples: Findings From the Retirement History Study
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 42, No. 1 (released January 1979)
by Alan Fox
Labor-Force Status of Nonmarried Women on the Threshold of Retirement
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 37, No. 9 (released September 1974)
by Sally R. Sherman
Family Structure in the Preretirement Years
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 36, No. 10 (released October 1973)
by Janet H. Murray
Living in Retirement: A Moderate Standard for an Elderly City Couple
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 31, No. 10 (released October 1968)
by Mollie Orshansky
Budget for an Elderly Couple: Interim Revision by the Bureau of Labor Statistics
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 23, No. 12 (released December 1960)
by Mollie Orshansky
Facts About Families
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 22, No. 5 (released May 1959)
Budget for an Elderly Couple
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 12, No. 7 (released July 1949)
A Budget for an Elderly Couple
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 11, No. 2 (released February 1948)