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Retirement & Social Security

About Retirement & Social Security

IWPR is a leading national resource on women’s income security—especially the economic security of women in retirement and the possible effects of Social Security changes on women.

Research from IWPR has shown the current Social Security program is a mainstay for women, and these findings have been supported by research from other organizations. Women are more likely to rely on Social Security because they have fewer alternative sources of income, often outlive their husbands, and are more likely to be left to rear children when their husbands die or become disabled. Moreover, due to the recession, many women have lost home equity and savings to failing markets, leaving them more economically vulnerable and dependent on Social Security benefits. Adult women are 51 percent (28 million) of all beneficiaries, including retirees, the disabled, and survivors of deceased or disabled workers. IWPR’s research shows that women aged 65 and over receive two-thirds of their income from Social Security on average. In 2009, 29 percent of older women lived on Social Security alone and the program lifted more than 14 million women and men aged 65 or older out of poverty.

In 2009, 29 percent of older women lived on Social Security alone and the program lifted more than 14 million women and men aged 65 or older out of poverty.

A 2010 survey developed by IWPR, with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, found that many Americans, especially women, felt bleak about their prospects for retirement security in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Almost half (47 percent) of all women surveyed said they had little or no confidence that their resources would last throughout their retirement years, compared with 35 percent of men. Only 25 percent of women and 35 percent of men believed they were saving enough for retirement. Especially in the recent economic crisis and slow recovery, American women and men value the support Social Security provides–to such a great extent that they do not mind paying taxes so that the program can continue to help secure the economic stability of retired persons, the disabled, and families of deceased workers.

In addition, IWPR has been working on collaborative projects to educate and mobilize women’s organizations to safeguard and strengthen the Social Security system. Working with the National Organization for Women (NOW) as co-leaders of the National Council of Women’s Organizations’ Task Force on Older Women’s Economic Security (OWES), IWPR strives to increase the participation of women’s groups in the political debate about Social Security and to disseminate accurate information about the system’s future. In May 2012, IWPR, the NOW Foundation, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare released a report outlining recommendations for affordably modernizing Social Security, such as extending benefits to same-sex couples and increasing benefits for widows.


Women and Social Security

Social Security Media Watch Project Blog

Social Security and the Changing Economic Role of Women --PowerPoint Presentation

Visit our external resources page for links to more information on this topic.

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Latest Reports from IWPR

Recently Proposed Legislation Affecting Social Security (Appendix to IWPR #D504)
by Mary Sykes and Susan Andrzejewski (July 2014)

Appendix II: Legislation Affection Social Security Introduced in the 110th-113th Congresses (Appendix to Enhancing Social Security for Women and other Vulnerable Americans: What the Experts Say)


Enhancing Social Security for Women and other Vulnerable Americans: What the Experts Say
by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. (July 2014)

This report was conducted by Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) to gather expert opinion about the likely direction and timing of new legislation affecting Social Security and to identify opportunities to raise the special concerns of women and other vulnerable populations in future legislative debates, so that their needs can be addressed.


Expanding Social Security Benefits for Financially Vulnerable Populations
by Older Women's Economic Security (OWES) Task Force of the National Council of Women's Organizations and Center for Community Change (October 2013)

Social Security benefits are especially important to populations that experience greater economic insecurity as they age — particularly women, people of color, and same-sex couples. These populations are often disadvantaged both as workers and consumers, which contributes to their increased financial vulnerability in retirement. Social Security, from the beginning, has included features that partially offset the effects of workplace disadvantages. This legacy should be built upon by the enactment of the modest changes proposed in this white paper. This paper outlines five key policy changes that would help to build upon our Social Security system and help to make sure that it functions even better for women, samesex spouses, and low-income people.


The Importance of Social Security in the Incomes of Older Americans: Differences by Gender, Age, Race/Ethnicity, and Marital Status
by Jocelyn Fischer and Jeff Hayes, Ph.D. (August 2013)

Social Security is the largest source of income for most older Americans and is even more vital to particular demographic subgroups of older Americans. Analyzing the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) for calendar year 2011, this briefing paper examines the role of Social Security and other income sources in the retirement security of older Americans. It explores the unique value of Social Security to different gender, age, race/ethnic, and marital groups. It finds that significant shares of the older population rely on Social Security for the majority of their income and that Social Security lifts 14.8 million people out of poverty.


The Gendered Dynamics of Income Security: How Social Science Research Can Identify Pathways Out of Poverty and Toward Economic Security
by Courtney Kishbaugh and Jeffrey Hayes, Ph.D. (May 2013)

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) addressed issues of women, poverty and income security issues from its beginnings. IWPR’s first publication on these topics, Low-Wage Jobs and Workers: Trends and Options for Change (published in 1989), finds a growing share of adults working in low-wage jobs and a growing share of families relying on low-wage work for a major share of family income. It also finds that women and people of color are far more likely to work in low-wage jobs than white males. Federal or federally-funded data sets analyzed for the study included the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) and the Panel Study on Income Dynamics (PSID). Low-Wage Jobs and Workers, a report funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and jointly disseminated with the non-profit Women Work! (then the National Displaced Homemakers Network), became the first of many influential policy pieces centered on poverty and income security. Since then, IWPR has continued to expand its research on poverty issues, focusing primarily on the topics of Social Security and older women’s economic security, welfare reform and its impact on women and children, the impact of unemployment on low-income women and their families, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast region. IWPR’s work has shed light on the experiences and needs of particularly vulnerable and underserved communities, inspired national and international conversations about these issues, and informed policy change.

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Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling: A Proposal to Modernize Women's Benefits
by Carol Estes, Terry O'Neill, and Heidi Hartmann (May 2012)

This report examines the valuable role women play as caregivers to both their children and to their aging parents. It looks at the impact of widowhood, and the difference in life expectancy between men and women and how that affects a growing number of older women --espeically those over age 86-- who are living below the poverty line. And it examines the special role that Social Security plays in meeting the income security needs of women from communities of color.


Importance of Social Security by Gender, Race/Ethnicity, and Marital Status, 2010
by The Institute for Women's Policy Research (April 2012)


Can Boomer Women Afford to Retire?
by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. (February 2012)


Talking Points on Retirement and Social Security
by Cynthia Hess (January 2012)

Talking Points on Retirement and Social Security


The Impact of the Great Recession on Older Women and Men
by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. (October 2011)


Retirement on the Edge: Women, Men, and Economic Insecurity After the Great Recession
by Cynthia Hess, Ph.D., Jeff Hayes, Ph.D. and, Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. (September 2011)

The IWPR/Rockefeller Survey addressed the extent of economic security almost a year and a half after the recession officially ended. Many of the survey’s findings are detailed in the report, Women and Men Living On the Edge: Economic Insecurity After the Great Recession (Hayes and Hartmann 2011). This report analyzes a specific aspect of the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey’s findings: issues related to retirement security following the recession. It finds that men and women after the Great Recession experience uncertainty about the adequacy of their financial resources for the proverbial “golden years,” an uncertainty that may shape how they view the meaning of retirement and their own decisions about the future.

D500, Report, 68 pages

Most Americans Think the Growth of Social Security Spending Should Not Be Cut to Reduce the Deficit
by Institute for Women's Policy Research (September 2011)


Pension Crediting for Caregivers: Policies in Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Japan
by Elaine Fultz, Ph.D. (June 2011)

#D497, Report, 48 pages

Six Key Facts on Women and Social Security
by IWPR (June 2011)


Social Security and Black Women
by Institute for Women's Policy Research (May 2011)


Latinas and Social Security
by Jeffrey Hayes, Ph.D., Youngmin Yi, and Heather Berg (April 2011)

Social Security is a crucial source of income for many Americans. This is particularly true for women and people of color, who tend to have fewer alternative sources of income, experience higher poverty rates, and earn less on average throughout their working years (Hartmann, Hayes, and Drago 2011).


Figures Excerpted from the Report, Social Security Especially Vital to Women and People of Color, Men Increasingly Reliant
by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., Jeff Hayes, Ph.D., Robert Drago, Ph.D. (February 2011)


Social Security: Especially Vital to Women and People of Color, Men Increasingly Reliant
by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., Jeff Hayes, Ph.D. and Robert Drago, Ph.D. (January 2011)

Social Security is the bedrock of retirement income for older Americans. IWPR analysis of the 2010 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) shows that Social Security remains the largest source of income for older Americans.

#D494, Report, 22 pages,

Women’s Economic Security in the Labor Market and in Retirement
by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. (July 2010)


The Importance of Social Security Benefits to Women
by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. (May 2010)

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