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Center for Policy Research

Policy Brief

Social Security Reform: Improving Benefit Adequacy and Economic Security for Women

Timothy M. Smeeding

C.P.R. Policy Brief No. 16

October 1999

Introduction

This policy brief is designed to raise awareness of the current and future economic circumstances of older women, and the ways in which Social Security reform can help alleviate their unmet needs. It considers the gaps in benefit adequacy and economic security that are not addressed by current Social Security reform proposals and then suggests a series of modest, low-cost reforms to help close these gaps. If our proposals are adopted, Social Security reform will not only close the long-run financial deficit, but it will also greatly reduce the future poverty status of older women, particularly those who live alone. This is an opportunity for progressive reform as well as for budgetary balance.

The Social Security program was designed over 60 years ago for a world in which mothers worked at home, raised children, and were widowed young, but not divorced; where fathers worked in industrial settings; and where both men and women had much shorter life expectancies at older ages than those of succeeding generations. Back in 1935 the founders of Social Security did not anticipate that women would become the major beneficiaries of the program. Increasingly, women rely on Social Security as the major source of their economic security at older ages, much more so than do men. Therefore, women are the group with the most to gain or lose from reform of the Social Security system and modification of its benefit formulae.

Future women beneficiaries will be different. Women's lives are changing rapidly in many ways. More women work outside the home today, and about half of all marriages end in divorce.

 

The Center for Policy Research Policy Brief series is a collection of essays on current public policy issues in aging; urban and regional studies; education finance and accountability; public finance; social welfare, poverty, and income security; and related research done by or on behalf of the Center for Policy Research at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.


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