Why Are Widows So Poor?

Alicia H. Munnell Nadia S. Karamcheva

IB#7-9

Introduction

The economic status of older Americans has improved tremendously during the last 50 years.  Today the old-age poverty rate is about one third of its mid-20th century level, and poverty among the elderly is roughly the same as that among the non-elderly.   Poverty rates for older non-married women, however, remain very high.  This brief investigates why this group of the population is particularly vulnerable.   One reason is that widowhood creates economic hardship, as Social Security benefits and pensions from employer-sponsored plans drop.  In addition, those most likely to be widowed have lower incomes than intact couples even before they lose their husbands.  Their lower incomes reflect less education on the part of both the husband and wife and poorer health on the part of the husband than couples that remain intact.