Selected Research & Analysis: Demographic Characteristics > Women
See also related Extramural Projects.
Related Fact Sheet
Female Veterans: Socioeconomic Characteristics and Disability Patterns Among Social Security Beneficiaries
Using data collected by the Census Bureau in its American Community Survey during the period 2015–2019, the authors examine the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of female veterans, focusing on those who receive Social Security income. They first compare key demographic and economic traits of female veterans with those of female nonveterans and male veterans. Then they present results for female veteran beneficiaries, female nonveteran beneficiaries, and male veteran beneficiaries.
This article examines the 2012 poverty status of eight Social Security adult type of benefit (TOB) groups using both the official poverty measure and the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). For each TOB group, the article compares the SPM estimate with the official poverty measure estimate. In addition, it estimates the effects of various features of the SPM on poverty rates, noting why the SPM estimates differ from official estimates. For each poverty measure, the article also compares poverty estimates across groups.
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.
We find that three factors—(1) population growth, (2) the growth in the proportion of women insured for disability, and (3) the movement of the large baby boom generation into disability-prone ages—explain 90 percent of the growth in new disabled-worker entitlements over the 36-year subperiod (1972–2008). The remaining 10 percent is the part attributable to the disability “incidence rate.” Looking at the two subperiods (1972–1990 and 1990–2008), unadjusted measures appear to show faster growth in the incidence rate in the later period than in the earlier one. This apparent speedup disappears once we account for the changing demographic structure of the insured population. Although the adjusted growth in the incidence rate accounts for 17 percent of the growth in disability entitlements in the earlier subperiod, it accounts for only 6 percent of the growth in the more recent half. Demographic factors explain the remaining 94 percent of growth over the 1990–2008 period.
How Do Trends in Women's Labor Force Activity and Marriage Patterns Affect Social Security Replacement Rates?
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.
The Implications of Marital History Change on Women's Eligibility for Social Security Wife and Widow Benefits, 1990–2009
Social Security retirement-age benefits in the United States reflect marital histories and lifetime earnings of current and former married couples. We examine women's marital history patterns and spouse and widow benefit eligibility over the past two decades, 1990 and 2009. Our analysis reveals substantial changes in women's marital patterns among the baby boom and generation X cohorts. We find a substantial decline in qualifying marital histories for Social Security spouse and widow benefits. The results reveal considerable variation by race and Hispanic origin.
The authors use the Social Security Administration's Modeling Income in the Near Term (version 6) to describe the likely characteristics, work experience, Social Security benefit status, and economic well-being of future divorced women at age 70, by race and ethnicity. Factors associated with higher retirement incomes include having a college degree; having a strong history of labor force attachment; receiving Social Security benefits; and having pensions, retirement accounts, or assets, regardless of race and ethnicity. However, because divorced black and Hispanic women are less likely than divorced white women to have these attributes, income sources, or assets, their projected average retirement incomes are lower than those of divorced white women.
To project the retirement resources and well-being of divorced women, the authors use the Social Security Administration's Modeling Income in the Near Term (version 6). Findings show that Social Security benefits and retirement incomes are projected to increase for divorced women and that their poverty rates are projected to decline, due in large part to women's increasing lifetime earnings. However, not all divorced women will be equally well off; economic well-being in retirement varies by Social Security benefit type.
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.
Analysts have long considered caregiver credits, or pension credits, provided to individuals for time spent out of the workforce caring for dependent children and sick or elderly relatives, as a way to improve the adequacy of retirement benefits for women in the United States. This article examines the experiences of France, Germany, and Sweden with caregiver credits, focusing particularly on the design, administration, and cost of these programs.
This article provides policymakers with context for understanding past and future policy discussions regarding Social Security widow benefits. Using data from household surveys, projections from a microsimulation model, and recent research, it examines three types of benefits—those for aged widows, widows caring for children, and disabled widows.
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.
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.
This article describes the economic resources and economic well-being of future divorced women at retirement using data from the Social Security Administration's project on Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT). The MINT model projects that in the near term, there will be more divorced women of retirement age. Because fewer of those women are projected to meet the 10-year marriage requirement, the proportion of economically vulnerable aged women is expected to increase when the baby boom retires.
Using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and linked administrative records, we explore differences in old-age benefits between men and women attributable to differences in length of work life and pay. We find that most women are fully insured for Social Security purposes, but those who are not would have to work substantially more to become eligible. Among those who are eligible, additional work would translate into only slightly higher benefits.
One aspect of the current debate about changing the Social Security program concerns how new rules might affect elderly women, many of whom have low income. This paper examines three possible changes: (1) a reduction in spousal benefits combined with a change in the computation of the survivor benefit, (2) a redefined minimum benefit, and (3) a 5 percent increase in benefits for persons aged 80 or older. The paper assesses the cost, distributional consequences, and antipoverty impact of each option.
Although the Social Security program has substantially reduced poverty among older Americans, 17.3 percent of nonmarried elderly women (widowed, divorced, or never married) are living in poverty today. This paper explores several policy options designed to reduce poverty by enhancing Social Security widow(er)'s benefits, Supplemental Security Income benefits, and Social Security's special minimum benefit. Depending on the option, 40 percent to 58 percent of the additional federal spending would be directed to the poor or near poor.
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.
In this paper we focus on the relationship between a woman's economic status earlier in life and her poverty status in old age. Previous research on the determinants of poverty among aged women has documented the socioeconomic and demographic correlates of the poor and has examined the financial impact of adverse late-life events such as widowhood, deterioration of health, and loss of employment. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Mature Women, we find that most women who experience these types of adverse events in their later years do not become poor and that a large majority of older NLSMW respondents who were poor in 1991–92 were poor earlier in their adult lives. Whether women are impoverished by adverse late-life events depends on their economic resources just prior to the event. But the financial resources available in old age, in turn, depend very much on their long-term economic status throughout much of their adult lives. This article underscores the fact that for most older women these adverse events do not appear to precipitate poverty spells—at least not within the first couple of years—and directs attention at longer-term circumstances that make some women more vulnerable.
Changing Social Security Benefits to Reflect Child-Care Years: A Policy Proposal Whose Time Has Passed?
This article estimates the effects of proposals to increase the retirement benefits of women who reduce their earnings to care for young children. Using the 1990 Survey of Income and Program Participation file—exactly matched to the Social Security Administration's record of lifetime earnings—the authors present the distribution of child-care dropout years by retirement cohort and other demographic characteristics, and estimate the dollar impact of adjustments for caregiving years. The policies examined do increase the retirement benefits of some women, but the increases on average are small, are lowered with each successive retirement cohort, and benefit women from the more privileged socioeconomic groups. Thus, because the policy effects are small and will diminish in the future, the time of efficacy for these proposals has passed. Subsidizing child-care dropout years does not seem to be a well-targeted policy.
This paper reviews the economic literature on the work and retirement decisions of older women. Economic studies generally find that married women respond to the financial reward for work (for example, wages) in making their work and retirement decisions, but that they do not respond to unearned income and wealth (for example, the value of lifetime Social Security benefits). Unmarried women are found to respond to all type of financial variables. Most economic studies find that the family plays only a limited role in the work and retirement decisions of women. The retirement status of the husband does influence the wife's retirement decision, but the health status of the husband does not. The presence of dependents in the household, regardless of whether they are children or parents, is not found to influence work and retirement among women. The relevance of these results to Social Security policy is discussed.
There are a number of reasons to be cautious about the results. The literature to date is small; it is based on data that are deficient in some respects, and it contains studies that have methodological problems. These problems are discussed and prospects for future research are explored.
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.