Women Over 65 Are More Likely to Be Poor Than Men, Regardless of Race, Educational Background or Marital Status

In the future, we can expect poverty rates for both men and women to rise due to cuts to Social Security.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Women age 65 and older are much more likely to be poor than their male counterparts—and older, minority, and unmarried women are at greatest risk. The chart below replicates findings in a new report by the National Institute on Retirement Security, but uses an alternative measure of poverty that takes into account out-of-pocket medical expenses and other factors in addition to income. Hispanic senior women have the highest poverty rate of any group—31 percent, compared with 28 percent of Hispanic men over the age of 65. Senior women who never married have a similarly high poverty rate (29 percent); comparatively, senior men who never married have a poverty rate of 21 percent. As women get older, they also become more likely to be in poverty: 17 percent of women between the ages of 70–79 and 22 percent of women 80 and over are in poverty. Meanwhile, men in these age groups have a poverty rate of 11 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

Though EPI’s new report on the state of American retirement shows that the retirement gap between men and women is shrinking, this is not a feel-good story about women catching up to men. Instead, it’s a story about men sinking to the level of women, and the reality that neither men nor women are able to save enough for retirement. Women also remain much more vulnerable in retirement because they live longer (and therefore must save more), are more likely to fare worse if they are divorced, widowed, or have never been married, and have lower career earnings.

In the future, we can expect poverty rates for both men and women to rise due to cuts to Social Security—the gradual increase in the retirement age—and declining pension benefits. 401(k) accounts have largely replaced pensions in the private sector, but most people–particularly those in the bottom of the income distribution—have far too little in these accounts to make much of a difference in retirement.

Monique Morrissey joined the Economic Policy Institute in 2006. Her areas of interest include Social Security, pensions and other employee benefits, household savings, tax expenditures, older workers, public employees, unions and collective bargaining, Medicare, institutional investors, corporate governance, executive compensation, financial markets, and the Federal Reserve.

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