The Treatment of Married Women by the Social Security Retirement Program

Andrew G. BiggsGayle L. Reznik Nada O. Eissa

WP#2010-18

Abstract

It is generally accepted that the Social Security program pays women a higher average ratio of lifetime benefits to lifetime taxes than it does men. Social Security’s progressive benefit structure and annuity payment combine with women’s lower average earnings and longer average life spans to provide women with more favorable treatment on a lifetime basis. This more favorable treatment does not necessarily imply that women are presented with stronger incentives to participate in the labor force and contribute to Social Security than are men. If anything, Social Security does the opposite.  The auxiliary benefit provisions, including spousal and widow’s benefits, mean that many women do not receive higher benefits in return for their contributions than they would have received had they never worked or contributed to the program…