How Will Declining Rates of Marriage Reshape Eligibility for Social Security?
But since the 1960s, the frequency and length of marriages has dropped notably. Many demographers suggest that marriage will remain nearly universal for whites and Hispanics, but much less so for blacks. For example, Goldstein and Kenney (2001) project that among women born between 1960 and 1964, 93 percent of whites, but only 64 percent of blacks, will ever marry. Moreover, people do not stay married as long as they used to. Divorce rates rose steadily through the 1960s and 1970s, and then stabilized in the mid 1980s (Ruggles 1997; Goldstein 1999). Since 1988, the average span between first marriage and first divorce has been less than 10 years (Schoen and Weinick 1993). In fact, the tendency to divorce now peaks in the fourth year of both first marriages and remarriages (Goldstein 1999).
Our own examination of U.S. Census data shows a pronounced decline in marriage by age groups over time for both whites and blacks (U.S. Bureau of Census 1973 a, b; 1984 a, b; 1992; 1993; 2000). In 1970, among women age 25-34, 86 percent of whites and 74 percent of blacks were married. By 2000, 62 percent of whites and only 31 percent of blacks were married. In 1970, among women age 35-44, 87 percent of whites and 76 percent of blacks were married. By 2000, 70 percent of whites and only 41 percent of blacks were married. The difference by race is dramatic. During the 1970s, black women age 25 and up were between 84 to 87 percent as likely as whites to be married; by 2000 they were just 50 to 59 percent as likely.
Figure 5 shows that the proportion of black women born in the 1940s through the 1960s who will reach old age with a marriage that qualifies them for spouse and widow benefits will drop substantially. A comparison of Figures 2 and 5 shows just how sharp a drop is expected. Among those born in the 1920s, nearly 90 percent of black women reached old age with a marriage that qualified them for Social Security spouse and widow benefits. Among those born in the 1930s, about 84 percent qualified. Yet among those born in the 1940s, only about 67 percent will reach old age with a 10-year marriage, and among those born in the 1950s, just 58 percent will qualify. For those born in the 1960s, we expect only 50 percent of black women to reach old age having had a marriage that qualifies them for spouse or widow benefits.
Figure 6 shows that while there was some decline for Hispanic women, the proportion who will reach old age with a marriage that qualifies them for spouse and widow benefits will stabilize for those born in the 1940s through the 1960s. Among Hispanic women born in the 1920s, just under 80 percent reached old age with a qualifying marriage, and among those born in the 1930s, it was nearly 87 percent. We project that among those born in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, about 85 percent will qualify. White and Hispanic women will continue to have fairly high levels of eligibility for Social Security spouse and widow benefits, but black women will not.
Those who do not qualify for spouse and widow benefits either because they never married or divorced before meeting the 10-year requirement are most likely to be poor in old age (Butrica and Iams 2000, 2003). Black women may be not only the least likely to be able to make claims as wives or widows, but may also continue to have the lowest average worker benefits and private pensions. Thus, the safety net provided by non-contributory benefits may become increasingly irrelevant, and therefore ineffective, for the group that needs it most: unmarried black women.
Some might suggest that lack of access to a spouse and widow benefit might not be as problematic for black women because the gender gap in wages is smaller. Indeed, black women earn 83 percent of what black men earn, while white women earn just 69 Harrington Meyer, Wolf, and Himes 13 percent of what white men earn (Padavic and Reskin 2002). But black women currently have the lowest average working wages and the lowest average retired worker benefits (Padavic and Reskin 2002; SSA 2006). They are also less likely than white women to have private pension income, asset income, or their own homes (Butrica and Iams 2003). Thus, they are particularly economically vulnerable in old age. While retirement benefits for workers may increase somewhat for future cohorts, these benefits are not likely to increase enough to equal the benefits they might have received as widows.
Given the growing race gap in eligibility for Social Security spouse and widow benefits, why keep these benefits at all? Some policy analysts in the past have suggested that spouse and widow benefits serve as a form of delayed or de facto wages for unpaid domestic labor performed by many women throughout their lives (Myers 1982; Holden 1979; Flowers 1979). However, the eligibility rules are unrelated to the performance of domestic labor; they reward marital status rather than unpaid labor. Furthermore, women married to high earners receive a much larger benefit than women married to low earners, regardless of the quantity and difficulty of their unpaid labors (Harrington Meyer 1996).
For most older people in the United States, Social Security is the major source of income: nine out of ten people age 65 or older receive benefits, which represent an average of 41 percent of their income. Largely as a result of Social Security, poverty rates for the elderly are at an all-time low, just 10 percent. But pockets of poverty persist: older unmarried persons, blacks, and Hispanics experience poverty rates in excess of 20 percent, and over 40 percent of all older single black women live in poverty. People quality for Social Security based either on their work record or their marital status. Most older women receive noncontributory Social Security spouse of widow benefits on the basis of their marital history. For these women, marital status is more important than employment status in shaping old-age financial security. However, the trend to marry and stay married has declined over time in the United States, particularly among black women. This, we hypothesize, means that fewer women will qualify for spouse and widow benefits in coming decades. As a result, Social Security benefits will shrink among the very population that currently reports higher poverty rates, older single women, particularly black women. In this policy brief, we ask: Compared to earlier cohorts, what proportion of white, black, and Hispanic women born in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s will enter old age without a marriage that qualifies them for Social Security spouse and widow benefits? We find that the proportion who will reach age 62 without a qualifying marriage, and thus be ineligible for Social Security spouse and widow benefits, is increasing modestly for whites and Hispanics but dramatically for African Americans. Most of these women will be eligible for retired worker benefits under Social Security, but those benefits are not likely to be as large as the benefits they would have received as spouses and widows, had they been eligible. We then discuss a range of policy alternatives, including the possibility of a minimum benefit.
Thank you, Felicia for these articles. It's crucial that AA women know what to expect in their future financially speaking if they continue to believe those in the bc and others who soothe them by telling them that "There's no point in rushing to get married," (even when they're 35) or "Everybody's not cut out for marriage," or that "Marriage is for white people." If they listen, these bw are simply going to end up old, poor, sick, alone, and at the mercy of leeches, predators, and strangers.
And yes, it is just as important to marry WELL. That is VERY important. It is so difficult to get this across to AA women--some of whom will argue all day and all night that a man who can give a good "foot rub" is just as good or better than a man who has means. LOL! Apparently, many AA women find it hard to believe that a man can have means AND can give a good "foot rub." Also, when the social security allotment is being calculated, I don't know how a good "foot rub" can be put into that calculation.
HOWEVER, even if they don't get married, they need to hang onto their money NOW and find other ways to secure their financial future. However, so many AA women are so busy shelling out money ***helping*** this one and that one, until they don't keep their money or learn to make it benefit them now and in the future. Needless to say, these folks they're helping won't be there for them when they need them the most.
And at the same time, the economy is sinking. I don't want to scare anyone, but the economy is worse than is being reported. Take heed.
It's really CRIMINAL AND EVIL that the information in the above reports is not blasting from black radio stations and leaping off the pages of black-owned print media.