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Written by Kenneth R. Fisher
Walden University
November, 2007

Gender Schism: Retirement and Social Security

The future of elderly women's retirement in America is increasingly becoming financially challenged and policies relating to Social Security insurance seem less promising. Life work experiences for Mexicans, African American and other minority women usually are shorter than work experiences of mainstream workers. Therefore, the gender gap between men and minority women's retirement is a major policy issue. To be sure, other people may reap the benefits invested by minority women.

In an article entitled "Women and Social Security", from Issue Brief in the American Academy of Actuaries, according to (bill, 2005), factors that can affect the differences in benefits women and men receive from social security are:
"employment history and breaks in earnings. Life expectancy, since women usually live longer than men, a woman who retires at the same age as a man, can be expected to collect benefits over a longer period of time. Marital status, a higher proportion of women than men never marry. As a consequence of a longer life expectancy, and the fact that women are often younger than their spouses, women on average are less likely than men to become widowed before or during retirement (p.g.1)."
According to Rappaport (2007), the economic problems of the elderly are often problems of women because; the work history of today's elderly women is such that they are likely to have lower pensions and Social Security benefits. In addition, women very seldom had jobs that entitled them to pension credits or remained in jobs long enough to have invested benefits, (Rappaport, 2007). In analyzing the etiology of the above views, it seems obvious that Social Security may not have been developed to benefit certain women, and certainly non-mainstream women in particular. On the same hand, from further investigation of the patriarch paradigm, basically in American 17th century society, the breadwinner was strictly male. An analysis of the above information reflects that the Social Security system, primarily designed by mainstream men, was initially intended for certain women to be given less consideration about their retirement than men.

Issue Statement

Historically, Social Security insurance evolved as a supplemental retirement income mainly for men. Today, attention must be given to ensure that America's strongest minority (women) will experience the same quality of living that most men share during retirement. This literature review is focused on America's Social Security system and policies between 2000 and 2007, and its effect on minority women. The findings from this review will be drawn from studies in which the researcher's used primary and secondary data collection and information on gender gap issues.

Issue Background

The first review will be the literature of Susan B. Garland (2000), in which she discussed Social Security policy surrounding the 2000 Presidential campaign. Garland pointed out the dual campaign issues, low or no income and gender gaps in retirement faced by female baby boomers. These were top policy issues during that time and appear relevant today. "Moreover, according to Garland (2000), 13% of elderly women live in poverty" (p. 21). Garland provides explanations in this article that stress the root causes of women's poverty and pitfalls that encompass Social Security policy issues. For example, Garland (2000), says the formula used to calculate benefits is based on a 35 years career. In analysis of this article, on average, men work12 years longer than women and time absent from the system equates to zero dollars when calculating benefits (p. 22). Thus, when looking back, say 10 to 20 years ago, one can see why American wives advocated for stay at home husbands and the push towards career-minded women or moms. After hundreds of years of oppression, women may have decided to try to narrow the gender gap by joining the paid taxable work force.

In review of a second study conducted by Dahl and Pedersen (2006), all reforms in social insurance programs during 1990's and up to today are, with few exceptions, anchored in The "Work Approach" which emphasizes that paid work should be the first choice of all able-bodied citizens in working age (p. 23). These writers, Dahl and Pedersen (2006) simulations indicate that proposed reform in old age pensions will probably increase the gender gap in retirement, although not dramatically. In comparing Dahl and Pedersen's article with the one by Garland, both clearly points to broadening of the gender gap as a policy issue involving America's Social Security program. This section of research literature is from a study conducted in Norway, a country that has been known for their model Social Security system. U. S. administrators obviously have an identified proven example to possibly pattern America's Social Security system by.

This third area of literature by Block (2006) acknowledges that there is no doubt about it women are falling behind. This author points out that, " because they typically earn less than men, they don't save as much money" (Block, 2006, p. 25). Additionally, Block (2006) states that they are less likely to receive a traditional pension. Even more dismal, this same writer adds that you can understand why a new study by Harvard Generations Policy Program concludes that boomer women risk a "never ending struggle" to get by in their elder years (Block, 2006, p. 24).

In analyzing Block's literature, her study shows that there is a need for pensions for women and a model outlining a more female friendly retirement plan (2006). Again, there appeared to be an underlining theme throughout the literature review and it consistently pointed to the need for improved policies in the areas of equity, gender equality and revamping a failing s s system. Supported by secondary data collection, Block (2006), like Garland, made the same point using statistical analysis that women are working less hours than men, thus making their contributions to the system lower. Comparing Block's study with Garland's and the others, each author provided policy implications, alternatives views and facts to support their point that women have always been overlooked. Taking this into account, viewpoints on this more female friendly plan are offered below.

Alternative Viewpoints

Looking at the first alternative view, according to Garland (2000), experts have plenty of ideals on how to make Social Security more women friendly. Hartman has proposed increasing the divorced woman's spousal benefit from 50% to 70% and ensuring that widows are not penalized by their husband's decision to retire early (Garland 2000, p. 4). In addition to this, Smeeding recommends setting a benefit guarantee at the poverty level and raising benefit's level, Garland (2000). According to Garland (2000), with the shortfall threat, though, few policymakers have been willing to consider benefits hikes.

Quiet obviously, as mentioned earlier, this male dominant society, functions with mainstream men usually making final decisions. Garland (2000) states that, the top 4% of America's wealthiest people will have to stop receiving the best tax breaks in order to help close the gender gaps and address poverty experienced by all minorities, especially women. These efforts will require initiation of social programs or addendum to Social Security and other polices to ease gender tension and at least promote the appearance of fairness to an observing audience, like Norway or Sweden.

An alternative viewpoint to the study conducted by Dahl and Pedersen looked at de- commodification verses re-commodification and its effect on their traditional Work- Approach model. According to Dahl and Pedersen (2006) most, if not all, reform in Social Security and social assistance that was introduced during the 1990s and 2000s have moderated or weakened the de-commodification (opting out of the labor market), in the Norwegian welfare state. Moreover, according to the same authors, there has been a move towards re-commodification of labor within the welfare benefits and services, (Dahl & Pedersen, 2006). Similar to Bush's privatization initiative, Norway's model has been accompanied by a strengthening of the idea of the importance of independence of social insurance and social assistance benefits, (Dahl & Pedersen, 2006).

The last sections discuss an alternative view to women's lack of money and traditional retirement plan that's embedded within the literature provided by Sandra Block. First, the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement offers enormous information on selecting a mutual fund, choosing a financial advisor and investing in 401 (k) or an individual retirement account (Block, 2006). Advantage women have at this point, in addition to the wisdom that accompanies a long life, is investing into an annuity. Block (2006), states that one way to reduce the risk of running out of money is to buy an immediate annuity. According to Block (2006), companies that sell immediate annuities say the lifetime guarantees makes them ideal for women, because women typically live longer than men.

Drew Denning of Principal Finance says, the downside is that insurers reduce payments to women to account for their longer life span (Block, 2006). To stay ahead of the game, Denning says to buy your annuities in stages; your money that's outside your annuity will have more time to grow and stay ahead of inflation, (Block, 2006). A last key strategy to increasing women's Social Security benefits, according to Block (2006), is to work longer and to delay Social Security benefits.


For many newcomers to this country, once they set foot on the soil, they say, I've made it. Usually they are referring to coming to a country that offers countless jobs, and at retirement, the start of a life with few worries. Unfortunately, the U. S.A. has a worldwide reputation for enormous income and retirement disparities among a very large number of diverse racial groups.

In discussing the first article, under the title issue background, there are two possible solutions; one covers jobs and the other one, gender gaps. First, jobs must be brought back to this country and prioritized based on something other than businesses saving money through cheap labor. One possible solution is to base being hired for jobs on born citizenship, meritocracy and not the mainstream good buddy networks.

Next, research is presented on how Congress has proposed to handle the gender gap policy issue. Looking at four legislative proposals, political policymaker's have showed awareness of the magnitude of this issue and the urgency to do something about it. For example, according to Kirchhoff & Benkelmen (1998),
HR1611. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., sets up a new Individual Retirement Investment Program under which the government would establish personal Social Security investment accounts initially worth $1,000.00 for each newborn American. People could add to those accounts (p. 8).

HR2929. Rep. John Edward Porter R-111, would give workers a choice between the current system or Individual Social Security Retirement Accounts funded by diveriting 10 % of the current 12.4 % payroll tax. The remaining 2.4% would go to the Social Security trust fund (pg. 8).

HR2768. Rep. M. Sanford R. - S.C., would establish personal retirement accounts. Six percent would automatically be deducted from payroll checks, and matched by employers, for a total contribution of 12 % and 8 % would go to the personal retirement accounts and 4 percent to sustaining benefits (p. 8).

HR3082. Nick Smith R. - Mich., would give workers the option of receiving 2.5% of the 12.4 % paid into Social Security starting in 1999, increasing to 2.8, after fiscal year 2003, for individually owned investment accounts. (p. 9).
From the above proposals, there is evidence that the literature consistently pointed to a need for relevant occupational strategies, investment strategies, and further equitable interventions to Social Security's projected solvency. According to Kirchhoff and Benkelmen (1998), lawmakers have introduced a variety of proposals ranging from giving people free rein to investing part of their payroll taxes to yet setting up another commission to make recommendations. Gender gaps in retirement will not disappear on its own and for this reason and increasing social justice towards minority women, further research on this subject is warranted.


American Academy of Actuaries. Women and Social Security. Issue Briefs

Block, S. Ready, set, catch up on retirement savings. U.S.A Today: Section Money, p. 03b

Dahl, E. & Pedersen, A., W. Gender, Employment and Social Security in Norway. Gender/Issues. Winter (p. 16)

Garland S. B., Making Social Security more women-friendly. Business Weekly: Volume 3682, 103-104

Kirchhoff, S. & Benkelmen, S. Proposed fixes could widen social security gender gap. C Q Weekly, 15215997, 56, p.17

Rappaport, A. M. Improving the Financial Status of Elderly Women: Issues in Savings, Pensions Plans and Social Security. Benefits Quarterly. First Quarter.

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