Social Security card, treasury check and 100 dollar bills. Concept of social security benefits payment, retirement and federal government benefits
(Credit: JJ Gouin / Getty Images)

Generally speaking, women are more likely to live in poverty in retirement than are men, according to an issue brief released this month from the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor. Additionally, older women of color have higher poverty rates compared with older white women.

Statistically, according to the brief, 11.6% of women aged 65 or more years live in poverty, compared with 8.8% of older men. The rate is approximately 20% for older Hispanic and Black women and about 14% for older Asian women.

“While the poverty rate for all older adults increased between 2020 and 2021, the increase was larger for women than for men,” the Women’s Bureau noted. There was a 1.4 percentage point increase overall, with a 1.6 percentage point increase for women and a 1.2 percentage point increase for men.

Overall, according to the issue brief, women aged 65 or more years have approximately $23,000 less in personal income annually than men in the same age group. That’s a 43% gap in income. 

“With lower median earnings even when working full-time, year-round; lower labor force participation; and greater prevalence of part-time employment, on average, women end up with less retirement savings accumulated throughout their careers to support them and their families at older ages,” the authors wrote.

Women are traditionally more likely than men to have disruptions to their work history, too, and those, in turn, can affect retirement savings and Social Security benefits, according to the brief. 

An earlier report from the Urban Institute of the Department of Labor stated that “lifetime earnings lost because of caregiving average $237,000, 15% of what we project mothers would earn, on average, if they did not provide any family care.”

Paid leave policies would help eliminate the “caregiver penalties” many women face for being the primary caregivers in their families, Deborah Pascal, senior program analyst in the Midwest regional office of the Women’s Bureau, said during a recent webinar hosted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“On average, women’s labor force participation and work hours decreased after having children,” she said. That absence, in turn, reduces their lifetime earnings potential by 15%.