Social Security and Its Discontents: Perspectives on Choice

By Michael D. Tanner | Go to book overview

7.
Social Security Choices for the
21st-Century Woman
Leanne Abdnor

Since 1935 millions of senior citizens have relied on Social Security as the foundation for their retirement income. Women have often been the biggest beneficiaries of the program, because they have lower incomes and live longer than men and because Social Security grants generous benefits to spouses who do not work outside the home, most of whom have historically been women.

However, as our society has changed, with women achieving greater equality and becoming full participants in education, business, and politics, Social Security has failed to keep up. As a result, Social Security no longer meets the needs of today's families and today's women.

Although most women work today, Social Security's original benefit structure—designed for a time when the single-earner family was the norm—is largely unchanged. And although Social Security still provides partial protection against poverty, spousal and survivors' benefit regulations now clash with women's changed roles and options in our society.

Indeed, Social Security's outmoded benefit structure is increasingly a source of discrimination and unfairness, pitting women against women. Among those adversely affected are millions of married women who have joined the workforce and many divorced and single women who are providing for themselves and their dependents. Social Security's 1935-era benefit structure means that the benefits of wealthier single-earner couples are subsidized by everyone else, including dual-earning couples, who also often receive disproportionately lower benefits. Furthermore, many divorced women are left with no claim to spousal or survivors' benefits.

Originally published as Cato Institute Social Security Paper no. 33, February 24, 2004.

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