Sunday, August 12, 2007

Apparently the safety net is only catching men

A recently released report by Academy of American Actuaries finds that more elderly women (40%) than men (28%) depend on Social Security to survive their retired years. They are also receiving smaller payments than men due to a variety of gender differences in American work culture. The end result is dismal though - the Social Security disparity is just one more factor contributing to high rates of poverty amongst senior women.

The causes are legion and not all of them reflect poorly on America's gender divide. For example the fact that women tend to live longer after their retirement should come as a welcome sign of progress in women's health care. Yet this seemingly benign fact means women get hit twice in the income department: they have to depend on payments longer, and they are more likely than men to spend some of their retired years single.

Some of the factors are more troubling - women still aren't reporting as much earned income as men. That should be a surprise to no one. That women are still taking a great deal of temporary leave from the workplace is not inherently unsettling, but it should raise questions about why men are still not doing their share of child-rearing, and why there is not some formula to reward mothers for their work when it comes to claiming social security.

And really, that point - revising the formula - is the most salient priority to be gleaned from the report, which in itself simply reflects a great deal of what we already know about gender and work in America. I think advocates for work parity will be unsurprised by just about every factor highlighted in this article, and they will appropriately continue to fight for reform. What the report should tell the people working to dispense Social Security payments is that a gender-blind formula like the one we have know is simply inadequate. If women are inordinately performing the uncompensated labor of child-care and are still facing discrimination in salaries, then a formula for Social Security payouts ought to be cognizant of that fact. The American workplace is still not a place where women are equal to men. Until it is, our social services will only consign more elderly American women to poverty if they insist on conflating gender equity with gender neutrality.

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