Brief clarifies Social Security's value for women

December 16, 2010

Without Social Security, research indicates that about half of women age 65 and older would be living in poverty. With the program in place, the poverty rate for women falls to 12 percent. These facts -- paired with recommended future courses of action -- are presented in the latest installment of the Public Policy & Aging Research Brief series from the National Academy on an Aging Society, the public policy branch of The Gerontological Society of America (GSA).

The new publication, "For Millions of Older Women, Social Security Is a Lifeline," was funded by grant support from The Retirement Research Foundation and represents a current synthesis of knowledge about Social Security's long-term impact on women's financial security.

"Older women -- especially those who are not married -- rely heavily on Social Security, as this research brief makes clear," said GSA Pubic Policy Committee Chair Sara Rix, PhD. "Relatively modest changes to restore solvency to the Social Security system would ensure that these women and the generations that follow them will be able to depend on their Social Security benefits well into the future."

In recent years, Social Security's financial position has caught the interest of the public, spurred on by the mounting U.S. debt burden, the recession of the early 21st century, and the large demographic shifts that have been underway for several decades.

The new brief demonstrates that, under the current system, some women fare better than others. Virginia P. Reno of the National Academy of Social Insurance introduces readers to Social Security finances and the adequacy of benefits going forward. Next, Joan Entmacher of the National Women's Law Center makes the argument that improving Social Security widow benefits is a feasible and important strategy for reducing poverty. Finally, in a piece that challenges some commonly held assumptions, Rix addresses the needs of caregivers.

The brief is the third and final component of a grant partnership between GSA and the Retirement Research Foundation. The first was a pre-conference workshop, "Women's Health and Retirement Security: How Far We Have Come and Where We Need To Go," organized by GSA at its 2008 Annual Scientific Meeting. The second was a special issue of The National Academy on an Aging Society's quarterly Public Policy & Aging Report (Volume 19, Number 2), which examined findings from the pre-conference workshop.
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"For Millions of Older Women, Social Security Is a Lifeline" can be purchased from www.geron.org/bookstore. Reporters may request electronic review copies.

The National Academy on an Aging Society is the policy institute of The Gerontological Society of America, the nation's oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging. The principal mission of the Society -- and its 5,200+ members -- is to advance the study of aging and disseminate information among scientists, decision makers, and the general public.

The Gerontological Society of America

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