Older women—particularly women from racial and ethnic groups that have experienced discrimination—experience higher poverty rates and lower Social Security benefits than older men. They also rely more heavily on Social Security benefits than men do since they are less likely than men to have had access to employer-sponsored retirement savings plans. More than one-quarter of white women age 65 and older and over one-third of African-American and Hispanic women age 65 and older rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their family income.
Women’s lower Social Security benefits result in part from earnings disparities and from more time spent out of the labor force than men or working part-time due to caregiving responsibilities. For example, among a sample of individuals born between 1926 and 1960, women were projected to spend a median of ten years out of the workforce for caregiving, compared with just two years for men. In addition, women represent approximately two-thirds of adults providing substantial assistance to care for recipients age 50 and over. Of the 73 percent of caregivers who work, 66 percent made adjustments to their work schedules.
While women predominate among those caring for children and other family members, men are also involved. Among people caring for adults with chronic care needs or functional limitations, about 40 percent are men. Changes to Social Security such as providing earnings credits for caregiving or changing the calculation of survivor benefits could improve the financial security in retirement of women and of caregivers.
BENEFITS FOR WOMEN AND CAREGIVERS: Policy
All proposals designed to ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security should be evaluated for their impact on caregivers. Policymakers should not adopt changes that worsen the financial situation of caregivers.
Consistent with maintaining the long-term solvency of the trust funds, policymakers should consider reforms that would protect and, if possible, improve Social Security benefits for people who provide caregiving to children, older adults, and others.