Poverty among the Elderly Is a Women’s Issue

NWLC’s analysis of Census Bureau data released last week shows that older women are at much higher risk of poverty than older men. 

  • 1 in 10 (10.0 percent) women nearing retirement (ages 55-64) were poor in 2009, up from 9.5 percent in 2008. In contrast, men of the same age saw their poverty rate drop slightly, from 8.8 percent in 2008 to 8.7 percent in 2009.
  • The poverty rate for women 65 and older in 2009 was 10.7 percent, 4.1 percentage points higher than the poverty rate for men 65 and older (6.6 percent).  Among people 65 and older, more than twice as many women (2.3 million) as men (1.1 million) lived in poverty in 2009.
  • Poverty rates were shockingly high, over one in five, for Black (21.8 percent), Hispanic (21.3 percent), and Native American (22.2 percent) women 65 and older.  The poverty rate was 8.2 percent for White, non-Hispanic women 65 and older and 15.4 percent for Asian women 65 and older.
  • 17.0 percent of women 65 and older living alone lived in poverty, compared to 12.2 percent for men 65 and older living alone.
  • Nearly one million women 65 and older who live alone were in extreme poverty (having income of 50 percent or less of the federal poverty level) in 2009. 

 Poverty rates

The gender gap in poverty for older women and men reflects earlier disparities. The typical woman working full time, all year, earns just 77 percent of what her male counterpart earns.  In addition, women’s lifetime earnings are reduced because they are more likely to take time out of the workforce, or work part time, to provide unpaid care for children or other family members.

As a result of their employment patterns, elderly women in 2009 received a 23 percent lower average social security benefit ($12,012) than their male counterparts ($15,588).  Additionally, elderly women typically have fewer pension assets and income as compared to elderly men.  With the poverty rate so high among women who are nearing retirement age, smaller social security benefits and the lack of other retirement income means they will likely spend the rest of their lives in or on the verge of poverty.

As 2.3 million elderly women live in poverty and nearly 1 million in extreme poverty, now is the time to take action to ensure women have a more secure future.

This blog entry was written by Jasmine Tucker of the National Women's Law Center and is cross-posted from the National Women's Law Center's Womenstake blog.

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