The shift away from defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution plans has affected the types of retirement benefits available to most households, but has negatively impacted women the most, particularly those who are not married, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.
Since the 1960s, the percentage of unmarried, single-parent families has risen dramatically, especially among low-income, less-educated individuals and some minorities, the report found. At the same time, the number of women in the labor force has increased. Both of these events have affected the types of Social Security benefits households receive, with fewer women receiving spousal benefits today than in the past.
The shift from DB to DC also has increased financial vulnerabilities for some of these same groups because DC plans offer fewer spousal protections.
The GAO study found that despite Social Security’s role in reducing poverty among seniors, poverty remains high among certain groups of seniors, such as minorities and unmarried women.
The study found that 11 percent of women over the age of 65 and 6.6 percent of men were living in poverty in 2012. The percentage gap between the genders increases as the population ages.
Those hit the hardest are widowed women, with 14.5 percent living in poverty; divorced women, with 17.1 percent of them living in poverty; separated women, with 35.4 percent living in poverty; and those who were never married, with 23.2 percent living in poverty.
Race also plays a role, with 8.6 percent of white women living in poverty compared to 21.3 percent of black women, 11.9 percent of Asian women and 21.8 percent of Hispanic women.
Social Security is now the most common type of income for retirees. Social Security retirement benefits are available not only to those who qualify based on their own work history, but also to spouses, widows/widowers, and in some cases former spouses of workers who qualify.