Modernizing Social Security: Widow Benefits

IB#18-17

The brief’s key findings are:

  • While the poverty status of widows has improved markedly, widows remain much more vulnerable than married couples.
  • One reason is that Social Security widow benefits have been declining – relative to the couple’s benefit – due to the rising labor force activity of women.
  • In response, policy experts have proposed increasing the widow benefit, particularly for those with low to moderate incomes.
  • To cover the cost, they would reduce the spousal benefit, essentially shifting money from when both spouses are alive to when only one member is alive.
  • This policy appears to offer a well-targeted and fiscally responsible way to further reduce poverty for widows.