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Reducing women's poverty by shifting social security benefits from retired couples to widows


  • Steven H. Sandell

    (Social Security Administration, Office of Research and Statistics, 4301 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008-2321)

  • Howard M. Iams

    (Social Security Administration, Office of Research and Statistics, 4301 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008-2321)


This article examines proposals to transfer Social Security benefits from married couples to surviving widows in terms of effects on poverty rates, trust fund expenditures, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) expenditures. Because widows are much more likely to be living in poverty than older married women, it makes sense to consider Social Security benefits in a lifetime framework and transfer some benefits from the time both the husband and wife are alive to the time when there is only one survivor, usually the wife. Because of expected life span and age differences of marital partners, a $1 reduction of the couple's benefit can finance a $1.45 increase in the widow's benefit. The 1990 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) matched to the Social Security Administration's benefit records are the basis for the estimates.

Suggested Citation

  • Steven H. Sandell & Howard M. Iams, 1997. "Reducing women's poverty by shifting social security benefits from retired couples to widows," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 16(2), pages 279-297.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:jpamgt:v:16:y:1997:i:2:p:279-297 DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1520-6688(199721)16:2<279::AID-PAM5>3.0.CO;2-F

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Burkhauser, Richard V & Duncan, Greg J, 1991. "United States Public Policy and the Elderly: The Disproportionate Risk to the Well-Being of Women," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 4(3), pages 217-231, August.
    3. Hurd, Michael D, 1990. "Research on the Elderly: Economic Status, Retirement, and Consumption and Saving," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 28(2), pages 565-637, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Theodore Figinski & David Neumark, 2015. "Does Eliminating the Earnings Test Increase the Incidence of Low Income Among Older Women?," NBER Working Papers 21601, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Seonglim Lee & Jinkook Lee & Yunhee Chang, 2014. "Is Dual Income Costly for Married Couples? An Analysis of Household Expenditures," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 35(2), pages 161-177, June.
    3. David R. Weir & Robert J. Willis & Purvi A. Sevak, 2002. "The Economic Consequences of Widowhood," Working Papers wp023, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.

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