Why Mothers and Wives Can Receive Less in Social Security
Madison West, Legislative Assistant
Many social and economic factors work against women who are family caregivers and mothers that can lower their Social Security benefits. The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) believes that lawmakers can and should be doing more to improve this.
Social Security benefits are determined by the income earned (up to the taxable maximum) over a working career, and the number of years worked. The more money you make and pay taxes on, and the more years you work the larger your monthly Social Security benefit will be. The Social Security Administration calculates your benefits based on the 35 years in which you earned the most money. But many women, especially those who become mothers or caregivers, give up a substantial portion of their earnings to care for a family.
According to a 2013 Pew Research study, women tend to take time off work to have children or care for aging family members more often than men, and then wind up with zero or only low earnings during those years. This reduces the initial Social Security retirement benefit. If a woman works entirely as a stay-at-home mom or is a full-time caregiver and doesn’t take a job with an employer or is not self-employed, this means she would only rely on survivor or spousal benefits based on her spouse’s work record for financial support.
Today’s working women, even those who worked in the same positions as men, tend to earn less during their working careers. The Economic Policy Institute reports that to every dollar a man makes, women of Asian descent earn 88 cents, Caucasian women make 81 cents, African American women make 65 cents, and Hispanic women make 59 cents. This only worsens the low lifetime earnings problem.
Women who earn less are particularly disadvantaged because females tend to live longer compared to men but have to live on less in benefits. The Social Security Administration website tells us that the typical woman receives $1,218 each month while the typical man receives $1,534 per month — meaning that, on average, men receive 25% more in Social Security benefits. This means that women have much less money to cover their expenses over a longer period.
To remedy this problem, TSCL supports Social Security “caregiving credits.” These credits would be applied to a worker’s Social Security earnings record to make up for years when people took time out of their working careers, and earned little or zero income, because they were caring for children, spouses, or older family members.
Many of these proposals to improve Social Security benefits for women will, and should, also benefit men who took time out of their working careers to care for someone else. However, because women are more likely to outlive their husbands and take care of children, TSCL believes these proposals can particularly help women who gave so much to others, and deserve protection in return. To learn more about these and other proposals that would strengthen Social Security benefits for mothers and caretakers, visit our website at www.SeniorsLeague.org.
“Black and Hispanic Women Are Paid Substantially Less Than White Men,” Economic Policy Institute, March 7, 2017.