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Issue brief

On average, women earn less than men with each
paycheck, which causes a significant gender disparity in
earnings over a lifetime. As a result, women often lack
the financial resources needed in old age. This fact sheet
addresses the economic needs of older women, their
sources of income, and the gender wage gap by race and
ethnicity. It discusses factors that impact the lower average
lifetime earnings of women and policy changes that could
increase the economic security of older women. Lower
earnings than men for full-time work, lower likelihood than
men to work full-time, and a greater likelihood than men to
have had time out of the labor force because of caregiving
all contribute to women’s lower lifetime earnings.

In 2006, the Gerontology Institute at the University of
Massachusetts Boston,1 in collaboration with Wider
Opportunities for Women (WOW),2 developed the Elder
Economic Security Standard™ Index (Elder Index), a
measure of income that older adults require to maintain
their independence in the community and meet their
daily costs of living, including housing, health care, food,
transportation, and miscellaneous expenses.3 The Elder
Index uses cost data from public federal sources that are
comparable, geographically specific, easily accessible, and
widely accepted.4 It accounts for geographic differences
in cost of living.5 It shows, as an average, what it costs
a retired elder to live in any state or county in the United
States. The average annual cost for a single elder person
(someone who is 65 years or older) household ranges from
$19,000 to $29,000 per year, while for couples it ranges
from about $29,500 to $35,000, all numbers above the
poverty line.6 However, the average annual Social Security
payment for women is only $13,3927 and the annual median
income in retirement for women amounts to only $14,000.8

This issue brief answers the following
questions: How and why does the gender

wage gap vary by age? How do earnings for
older women differ by race and ethnicity?
What is the impact of the gender wage gap and
caregiving responsibilities on women’s lifetime
earnings and their retirement savings? What
can be done to tackle the gender wage gap and
improve women’s lifetime earnings?

Issue brief
women and men who work full-time, earnings are lower
for those ages 65 and older relative to those in prime and
middle age groups, and the drop in earnings is greater for
women than men (Figure 1).

Working later in life is one way to increase lifetime earnings
and make up for gaps in work experience in younger years.
The labor force participation of older women (defined here
as women 55 years old and older) has grown rapidly in the
last two decades and is projected to continue to grow. In
2012, the labor force participation rate for women ages 55
years old and older was 35.1 percent compared with 46.8
percent for men, up from 22.8 percent and 38.4 percent,
respectively, in 1992.9 In 2012, the labor force participation
rate for women ages 65 and older was 14.4 percent
compared with 23.6 percent for men, and for women
ages 75 and older, it was 5.0 percent compared with 11.3
percent for men.10 As a greater number of older women
enter and remain in the workforce, their earnings constitute
a larger part of the American economy and a larger part of
family incomes.

Both women and men tend to acquire higher earnings
as they get older. Once reaching age 65, however, their
earnings tend to fall. Yet the earnings difference between
workers who are just starting out in employment (under age
25) and workers who are 55 to 64 years of age is much
smaller for women than men; while women and men start
out with similar levels of earnings, the increase in earnings
between ages 35 and 45 is much more marked for men
than for women (Figure 1). In middle age (45-64 years),
men’s and women’s earnings are essentially static. Among
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In 2013, women ages 55 to 64 years had median weekly
earnings of $788. While the earnings for women in this age
group are higher than for women in other age groups, they
are $212 less per week than the median weekly earnings
of men ages 55 to 64 years, which is $1,000 per week for
a gender earnings ratio of 78.8 percent. At the beginning
of their working lives, the earnings of women and men
are more similar; yet, even among the youngest workers,
women earn less than men. Women younger than 25 years










Age Group
Gender Earnings Ratio







Figure 1. Median Weekly Earnings for Full-Time Work by Age and
Gender, 2013
Source: IWPR Analysis of 2013 Current Population Survey ORG, as
provided by Center for Economic and Policy Research, CPS ORG
Uniform Extracts, Version 1.9 (2014).

earn 87.5 percent of young men’s median weekly earnings;
and women ages 25 to 34 earn 88 percent of men’s median
weekly earnings. The earnings gap widens for women
older than 35 years who earn less than 80 percent of men’s
median weekly earnings in each age group. The gap in
earnings is largest for women and men ages 65 years and
older (Figure 1).†
Median weekly earnings for full-time workers ages 55 years
and older vary substantially by race and ethnicity. In 2013,

Issue brief
among women, Hispanic women ages 55 years and older
had the lowest median weekly earnings at $600 per week;
White women had the highest median weekly earnings at
$808 per week (Figure 2). Women in each of the largest
race and ethnic groups (see Figure 2 below) earned less
than men of the same race and ethnicity. White men had
the highest median weekly earnings ($1,100). The gender
earnings ratio for White women and White men is 74
percent; for Black women and White men, 64 percent; and
for Hispanic women and White men 55 percent.11 The
gender earnings ratio is narrower when Black and Hispanic
women’s earnings are compared with men of the same
race/ethnicity (95 percent and 89 percent, respectively, with
calculations based on Figure 2).








While the majority of women and men ages 55 years and
older work full-time, part-time work by older workers is
more common than part-time work among the total working
population, and women are more likely than men to work
part-time. In 2013, among all workers ages 55 years and
older, including both full-time and part-time workers, the
earnings ratio of women’s to men’s median earnings was
69.8 percent.12 In 2013, 66 percent of women and 78
percent of men ages 55 years and older worked at least
35 hours per week, compared to 75 percent of women
and 87.5 percent of men ages 25 to 54 years.13 Rates of
full-time work vary by race and ethnicity. Among women
ages 55 years and older, Black and Asian women are most
likely to work full-time (73 and 72 percent respectively),
followed by Hispanic women (69 percent), Other women
(66 percent) and White women (64 percent).14






Figure 2. Median Weekly Earnings for Full-Time Workers Ages 55
and Older, by Largest Racial and Ethnic Groups and Gender, 2013
Notes: Racial/ethnic groups are defined as exclusive: White alone,
non-Hispanic; Black alone, non-Hispanic; Asian alone, non-Hispanic
(includes Pacific Islanders); Hispanic may be of any race; “Other”
includes persons of two or more races, American Indians, and anyone
else not elsewhere classified.
Source: IWPR Analysis of 2013 Current Population Survey ORG, as
provided by Center for Economic and Policy Research, CPS ORG
Uniform Extracts, Version 1.9 (2014).
BLS estimates are based on median weekly earnings of full-time wage
and salary workers. Another common approach to measure gender
differences in earnings is used by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. The
Census Bureau figures are based on median annual earnings of workers
who worked full-time and year round, including the self-employed.

Over a lifetime, the gap in earnings grows substantially
larger than at any one point in time. Women born in the
late 1940s over their lifetime are estimated to have earned
roughly 40 percent of men’s lifetime earnings; for women
born during the 1960s the gap is smaller, but still average
earnings for women are estimated at less than 60 percent
of men’s.15 One of the major reasons women tend to have
lower earnings over their lifetime is that women are more
likely than men to serve as caregivers. Two out of three
caregivers of sick, elderly, or disabled family members
are women.16 Approximately 9.7 million adults over 50
years of age care for their parents.17 Older Black and
Hispanic workers are more likely than White workers to
report having to care for a spouse, a parent, or other older
person.18 These caregiving duties have a direct impact
on the economic stability and security of women. Twentyone percent of women ages 45 to 74 report having taken
time off work in response to care responsibilities in the
preceding 5 years.19 Providing care to older adults has a
substantial impact on participation in paid work; according
to one study, more than one-third of caregivers providing
care to older adults leave the workforce or reduce their
work hours and, as caregivers, women are more likely
to leave their jobs altogether than reduce the hours they
work.20 Among workers, women of all ages are much more
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Issue brief














Asset Income



Social Security






Figure 3. Access to Retirement Income for Women and Men Ages 65 Years and Older, for Largest Race and Ethnic Groups, 2011
Note: Average annual income for each source includes zero values. The population groups “Asian Americans and Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders” and
“Other” are excluded from the analysis because of small sample sizes. The circle indicates the amount of retirement income for men, the top of the
rectangle retirement income for women.
Source: Fischer and Hayes 2013 based on 2012 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic (ASEC) Survey.30 Earnings and
income data are for the 2011calendar year.

likely than men to work part-time in order to meet family or
personal obligations.21 In total, the impact of caregiving on
the individual female caregiver in terms of lost wages and
Social Security benefits over her lifetime equals $274,044
($142,693 in lost wages and $131,351 in lost Social
Security benefits), as well as an estimated $50,000 in lost
pension income.22

retirement savings in order to achieve economic security.
For a woman born in 2010, her projected life expectancy
was 81.0 years and for that same year, the projected life
expectancy for a man was 76.2 years.25 In the same year,
a woman who was age 65 could expect to live another 20.3
years while a man who was age 65 could expect to live just
another 17.7 years.26


While the majority of women and men ages 65 years and
older (85 and 84 percent, respectively, in 2011) receive
Social Security benefits, women receive lower benefits than
men.27 In 2012, the average annual Social Security income
received by women 65 years and older was $12,520,
compared to $16,398 for men. In 2012, for unmarried
women—including widows—ages 65 years and older,
Social Security comprised 50.4 percent of their total income.
By contrast, Social Security benefits comprised only 35.9
percent of unmarried elderly men’s income and only 30.2
percent of elderly couples’ income. Women are less likely
than men to have income from assets (48 and 56 percent
respectively), and they are less likely than men to have
income from pensions (29 and 46 percent respectively).28 In
2012, only 22.0 percent of unmarried women ages 65 years

Over their lifetimes, women receive lower wages than men.
This results in women accumulating less retirement savings
than men, as well as acquiring fewer income-producing
assets for use in retirement. Consequently, women receive
less Social Security income than men. In retirement,
women have lower incomes from all income sources,
including pensions, than men, as demonstrated in Figure
3.23 Many workers who have not yet reached retirement
age anticipate that they will have to work during retirement
out of financial necessity, with women (41 percent) more
likely to say so than men (29 percent).24 Because women
generally outlive men, they often need to have greater
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or older were receiving their own private pensions (either
as a retired worker or survivor), compared to 27.7 percent
of unmarried men. In addition, women generally receive
lower pension benefits due to their relatively lower earnings
acquired during their work lives.29
In retirement, women of color are particularly vulnerable
to economic insecurity. Figure 3 shows the results of
earnings discrepancies: Black and Hispanic women have
lower income from Social Security, assets, and pensions
than do White women, and they rely on Social Security
for a larger portion of their income.31 In addition to having
lower Social Security payments based on lifetime wages
that tend to be lower than those of White women and
men, Black and Hispanic women are less likely to marry
than other women.32 Black women are also more likely to
divorce, reducing the likelihood of having been married for
10 years or longer and thus qualifying for spousal Social
Security benefits.33

Increasing women workers’ awareness of their legal
employment rights, reducing the difficulty and confusion
regarding the processes for filing discrimination complaints,
and increasing funding for agencies charged with enforcing
anti-discrimination laws would help mitigate gender-,
race-, and age-based gaps in women’s pay. Some have
advocated caregiver credits under Social Security for time
out of the labor force while raising children or caring for
adult family members as a way of increasing retirement
income for women, and legislation to bring this about has
been introduced in Congress. Education is an investment
that pays lifelong dividends in terms of achieving economic
security. In 2013, 57 percent of women aged 65 and
older and 41 percent of women ages 55 to 64 had no
post-secondary educational qualifications beyond high
school.34 The Institute for Women’s Policy Research
(IWPR) estimates that a woman ages 65 and older with
a Bachelor’s degree will earn twice as much as a woman
with a high school diploma or less; the benefits come from
having both higher hourly rates, and greater likelihood to
do paid work.35 Those with college degrees and advanced
degrees earn substantially more at ages 65 and beyond,

compared with those with less education.36 Increased
education would be helpful in increasing economic security
in old age.
Paid family and medical leave and paid sick days also
would help working women reconcile their paid and family
care work, and also take care of their own health care
needs. Currently, only 60 percent of all workers are entitled
to unpaid leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave
Act,37 only 62 percent of women have access to paid sick
leave,38 and only 12 percent of workers have access to
employer-provided paid family leave.39
Increasing the minimum wage and providing paid leave and
paid sick days would enable women to remain in their jobs
while caring for themselves or a family member. This would
allow them the opportunity to acquire seniority in their job,
which results in increased earnings.
Encouraging employers to provide more flexible working
hours and to make adjustments to working conditions
that would accommodate the needs and preferences of
some older workers would also help older women remain
employed, thus increasing their economic security. Such
adjustments could include a temporary reduction in working
hours, gradual retirement policies, as well as flextime and
remote work or telework options.

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The Gerontology Institute carries out basic and applied social and economic research on aging and engages in public
education on aging policy issues, with an emphasis on four areas: income security, health (including long-term care),
productive aging (including transportation), and basic social and demographic research on aging.
WOW, a nongovernmental organization, works nationally and in its home community of the Washington, D.C.
metropolitan area to build pathways to economic security and equality of opportunity for women, families and elders. It
produces a wide range of policy and economic security-related research.
Gerontology Institute, University of Massachusetts Boston, “The National Elder Economic Security Standard Index,”
Gerontology Institute Publications, Paper 75 (2012),
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census; U.S.
Department of Labor; U.S. Department of Agriculture; and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The federal poverty guidelines, by contrast, do not differentiate by region. See U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau
of the Census, “Poverty Thresholds” (2014), (accessed July
22, 2014).
Social Security Administration, Office of Retirement and Disability Policy, Income of the Population 55 or Older, 2012
(SSA Publication No. 13-11871) (2014).
Wider Opportunities for Women, “Doing Without: Economic Insecurity and Older Americans. No.2: Gender” (2012),
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Projections. Table 3.3 Civilian labor force
participation rates by age, sex, race, and ethnicity, 1992, 2002, 2012, and projected 2022,”
ep_table_303.htm (accessed June 3, 2014).
IWPR calculation based on CPS ORG; source as for Figure 2.
IWPR calculation based on CPS ORG; source as for Figure 2.
IWPR calculation based on U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table 22. Persons at work in
nonagricultural industries by age, sex, race, Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, marital status, and usual full- or part-time
status,” Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey (2014),
(accessed May 7, 2014).
IWPR analysis based on CPS ORG; source as for Figure 2.
Melissa Favreault, personal correspondence, based on Urban Institute analyses for the Social Security Administration
under contract number SS00–06–60113, order number SS00–11–31009. Results vary depending on the precise
measure used to estimate earnings.
Heather Boushey, Ann O’Leary and Sarah Jane Glynn, Center for American Progress, “Our Working Nation in 2013:
An Updated Agenda for Work and Family Policies” (2013), p. 51,
report/2013/02/05/51720/our-working-nation-in-2013/ (accessed March 24, 2014).
MetLife Mature Market Institute, MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers (June 2011).
Sid Groeneman and Elizabeth Pope, AARP, “Staying Ahead of the Curve 2007: The AARP Work and Career Study”
(2008), (accessed November 30, 2012). Note: Data are not
reported separately by race/ethnicity and gender; the survey was conducted of workers ages 45 to 74.
AARP, “Staying Ahead of the Curve 2013: The AARP Work and Career Study” (2014), p. 38,
content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/general/2014/Staying-Ahead-of-the-Curve-2013-The-Work-and-CareerStudy-AARP-res-gen.pdf (accessed May 5, 2014).
MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers, op. cit.

Page 6













IWPR calculation based on U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table 23. States: persons at work 1
to 34 hours, by sex, race, Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, usual full- or part-time status, and reason for working less than
35 hours, 2012 annual averages,” Geographic Profile of Employment and Unemployment in the States (2013), http:// (accessed May 7, 2014).
MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers, op. cit.
Jocelyn Fischer and Jeff Hayes, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “The Importance of Social Security in the
Incomes of Older Americans: Differences by Gender, Age, Race/Ethnicity, and Marital Status” (2013).
Cynthia Hess, Jeff Hayes and Heidi Hartmann, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “Retirement on the Edge:
Women, Men, and Economic Insecurity After the Great Recession” (2011),
retirement-on-the-edge-women-men-and-economic-insecurity-after-the-great-recession/at_download/file (accessed
December 6, 2012).
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Table 18, Health, United
States, 2013 (DHHS Publication No. 2014-1232) (2013), p. 82,
(accessed June 4, 2014).
Ibid, p. 82.
Jocelyn Fischer and Jeff Hayes, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “The Importance of Social Security in the
Incomes of Older Americans: Differences by Gender, Age, Race/Ethnicity, and Marital Status” (2013).
U.S. Social Security Administration, “Social Security Is Important to Women,”
women-alt.pdf (accessed June 4, 2014).
Fischer and Hayes, op. cit.
Rose M. Kreider and Renee Ellis, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, “Number, Timing, and
Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 2009,” Current Population Reports (2011).
Ibid, p. 14.
IWPR calculation based on U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, “Table 1. Educational Attainment
of the Population 18 Years and Over, by Age, Sex, Race and Hispanic Origin: 2013,” Current Population Survey, 2013
Annual Social and Economic Supplement (2013),
tables.html (accessed June 13, 2014).
Heidi Hartmann and Jeff Hayes, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “How Education Pays Off for Older Americans”
(2013). The benefits for men are even more substantial, as men having a Bachelor’s degree are estimated to earn 2.8
times as much as men with a high school diploma or less.
Hartmann and Hayes, op. cit.
Jacob Klerman, Kelly Daley and Alyssa Pozniak, Abt Associates, Family and Medical Leave in 2012: Technical Report
(2012), (accessed September 27, 2013).
Claudia Williams and Barbara Gault, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “Paid Sick Days Access in the United
States: Differences by Race/Ethnicity, Occupation, Earnings, and Work Schedule” (2014).
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Leave benefits: Access, civilian workers: National Compensation
Survey, March 2013 (2013), (accessed April
26, 2014).
February 2015

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Contact us
Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, February 2015.

U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210
Phone: 1-800-827-5335 or (202) 693-6710

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