women & planning

Facts About Social Security and Women

Study done for Mother’s Day highlights year-round challenge: Differences in benefits; effects of reform

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — On Mother’s Day weekend, the Social Security Committee of the American Academy of Actuaries highlighted key facts about “Women and Social Security” while urging lawmakers seeking to reform Social Security to carefully evaluate the potential impact of proposed changes to this important source of retirement income for women.

The committee’s updated issue brief highlights key aspects of the program, including:


  • Social Security’s rules are gender-neutral, but on average, some of the program’s features affect women differently because the average woman’s work history is not the same as that of the average man. Women tend to have more frequent breaks in employment due to child-bearing, child care, or caring for elderly parents or relatives. In 2014, 74 percent of women but 88 percent of men ages 25-54 were in the workforce. Fifty-seven percent of women but 70 percent of men ages 55-64 were in the workforce.
  • Women on average receive lower Social Security benefits than men with the same number of years of covered earnings due to differences in earnings between men and women. In 2012, the median covered wage reported to the Social Security Administration for all workers was $31,205 for men and $21,914 for women.
  • Women’s longer lifetimes make Social Security benefits a more significant component of their retirement security. The average life expectancy at age 65 is 18.1 years for males and 20.6 years for females. About 23 percent of women age 62 and older (but only about 18 percent of similarly aged men) depend on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their family income.

For women, a much-changed place…

“Financial security is a great way to honor all women, including mothers,” said Janet Barr, a co-author of the issue brief. “Ensuring that the dialogue around Social Security reform accounts for the facts about women’s benefits and the much-changed place of women in society since the program originated is a great place to start.”

The committee describes reform options aimed at addressing the specific Social Security challenges faced by women, including modifying the benefit computation period, providing a minimum benefit, and changing spousal benefits. It also examines the potential impact on women of reform proposals aimed at addressing Social Security’s funding challenges, such as changing the benefit formula, lowering cost-of-living increases, and increasing the payroll tax, the limit on taxable earnings, or the retirement age for full benefits.

Key Points from the Women & Social Security study:

  • While Social Security benefits are gender-neutral, due to gender-related differences in the workplace there are different levels of retirement security for women and men.
  • As women’s family roles have changed, contributions and benefits are often not in alignment when compared to those of “traditional” families.
  • Gender-related factors can cause differences to the benefits women and men receive. The current system has some features that address these differences, but gaps remain.
  • Various proposals address the specific challenges faced by women. The impact on women should also be considered by those proposals that address Social Security’s funding challenges

Read the issue brief, Women and Social Security, and learn more about the Academy’s pension-related public policy work at actuary.org.




The American Academy of Actuaries is a 19,000-member professional association whose mission is to serve the public and the U.S. actuarial profession. For more than 50 years, the Academy has assisted public policymakers on all levels by providing leadership, objective expertise, and actuarial advice on risk and financial security issues. The Academy also sets qualification, practice, and professionalism standards for actuaries in the United States.