Poverty and Income Maintenance in Old Age: A Cross-National View of Low Income Older Women

Timothy M. Smeeding Susanna Sandstrom

WP#2004-29

Abstract

Over the past 40 years, great strides have been made in reducing poverty among the elderly in most rich countries. Pensioner poverty, however, has not been eradicated, especially in the Anglo-speaking nations. Poverty rates among older women are much higher than those for older men and much higher in the United States compared to other nations. In general, poverty rates rise with both age and changes in living arrangements, though living alone has a greater effect for women. Poverty rates among older women are highest among the divorced, widowed, and never married (all of which are also expected to rise significantly over the next decades). The challenge is to design retirement benefit systems that guarantee a minimum standard of living for all elderly women, while also preserving incentives for self financed retirement.