Because women have been participating in greater numbers in the workforce than when the original Social Security widow’s benefit was put in place, their financial situation has improved — but the news isn’t all positive.
According to a brief from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, the widow’s Social Security benefit has declined substantially, relative to the Social Security couple’s benefit. And that’s not helping widows who have little or no time in the workforce to catch up financially after their husbands die.
Widows are still poor, the report says, despite the strides women have made in the workplace. In fact, the poverty rate today for widows ages 65 and over is three times that of married women. In addition, at older ages, widows account for the majority of households.
There are several reasons for this poverty level: the loss of retirement income on the death of a spouse — not just Social Security, but any private pension benefit, which could be cut in half or even eliminated if no joint-and-survivor annuity was chosen at retirement. In addition, the decedent could have been experiencing ill health for as much as a decade before death, which would imply that household medical expenses have been higher for years, depleting retirement assets the surviving spouse needs to live on.