Social Security: The Largest Source of Income for Both Men and Women in Retirement

Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., Sunhwa Lee

April 1, 2003
  • ID: #D455

This briefing paper examines major sources of income for older Americans-earnings, Social Security, pensions and assets- by gender and marital status. It shows that during retirement, social security is the most common and the largest source of income for both women and men. Approximately 90 percent of women and men 65 and older receive income from social security. During retirement years, however, women face greater financial insecurity than men. Women tend to marry men who are older than themselves and live longer than men. As a result, women are much more likely than men to be widowed and live alone, making them highly vulnerable to economic insecurity. Having less access to other sources of income, women rely on social security even more than men do.

The study is based on the data from the 1999-2001 March Current Population Survey (CPS) collected by the census bureau. The March CPS is the primary source of detailed information on income in the United States, as it gathers annual information on more than 50 sources of income including earnings, Social Security payments, pension income, and other government cash and non-cash benefits. We combine data from three years in order to secure sufficient numbers of observations for different categories of older women and men. Analyses of earnings and income sources apply to the calendar years 1998, 1999, and 2000.