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Linking Benefits To Marital Status: Race And Social Security In The Us


  • Madonna Harrington Meyer
  • Douglas Wolf
  • Christine Himes


In the US, marital status is more important than work history in determining economic security for many older women. Two-thirds of older women in the US receive spouse or widow Social Security benefits. These benefits generally require recipients to be currently married or to have had a ten-year marriage. Declining marriage rates, coupled with shorter marriages, dramatically change the distributional impact of these benefits on each cohort as they become eligible for Social Security. This paper uses June 1985, 1990, and 1995 CPS supplemental data to trace the decline in marital rates for women from five birth cohorts. We find that the proportion of persons who will be eligible as spouses or widows is decreasing modestly for whites and Hispanics, but dramatically for African Americans. This growing race gap in marital rates suggests that older black women will be particularly unlikely to qualify for these benefits.

Suggested Citation

  • Madonna Harrington Meyer & Douglas Wolf & Christine Himes, 2005. "Linking Benefits To Marital Status: Race And Social Security In The Us," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(2), pages 145-162.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:femeco:v:11:y:2005:i:2:p:145-162
    DOI: 10.1080/13545700500115977

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Burkhauser, Richard V & Warlick, Jennifer L, 1981. "Disentangling the Annuity from the Redistributive Aspects of Social Security in the United States," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 27(4), pages 401-421, December.
    2. Richard V. Burkhauser & Timothy M. Smeeding, 1994. "Social Security Reform: A Budget Neutral Approach to Reducing Older Women's Disproportional Risk of Poverty," Center for Policy Research Policy Briefs 2, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
    3. Joshua Goldstein, 1999. "The leveling of divorce in the united states," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 36(3), pages 409-414, August.
    4. Flowers, Marilyn R, 1979. "Supplemental Benefits for Spouses under Social Security: A Public Choice Explanation of the Law," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 17(1), pages 125-130, January.
    5. Ailsa McKay, 2001. "Rethinking Work and Income Maintenance Policy: Promoting Gender Equality Through a Citizens' Basic Income," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 7(1), pages 97-118.
    6. Teresa Martin & Larry Bumpass, 1989. "Recent trends in marital disruption," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 26(1), pages 37-51, February.
    7. Paul S. Davies & Melissa M. Favreault, 2004. "Interactions Between Social Security Reform and the Supplemental Security Income Program for the Age," Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College wp2004-02, Center for Retirement Research, revised Feb 2004.
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    Cited by:

    1. Agneta Stark & Nancy Folbre & Lois Shaw & Timothy Smeeding & Susanna Sandstrom & Lois Shaw & Sunhwa Lee & Kyunghee Chung, 2005. "Poverty And Income Maintenance In Old Age: A Cross-National View Of Low Income Older Women / Growing Old In The Us: Gender And Income Adequacy / Gender And Aging In South Korea," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(2), pages 163-197.


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