Older women, especially those living alone, continue to experience an elevated risk of economic insecurity, as detailed in a new report, “Late-life Gender Disparities in Economic Security,” from the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The report uses estimates from the Elder Index™ to assess the depth and scope of economic disadvantage experienced by older adults across the United States.

Nationally, 50 percent of older women living alone, compared to 42 percent of older men living alone, have annual incomes below the Elder Index, which is a county-by-county measure of the cost of living for older adults. This level of economic insecurity—which includes annual incomes below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) as well as in the gap between the FPL and the Elder Index threshold for economic security—means not having enough income to afford the local cost of housing, food, transportation, health care and other essentials without assistance.

“Women’s retirement security may be strengthened by addressing the sources of inequity shaping gender disparities in work histories and earnings,” says Jan Mutchler, the report’s lead author and director of the Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston. Mutchler has tracked economic insecurity for older adults through the Elder Index for more than a decade. “Remedying these disparities requires multi-pronged policies and interventions at every stage of the life course, among them promoting pay equity, strengthening the availability and affordability of child care, improving family leave policies, and increasing the value of Social Security benefits for people aged 85 and older,” she says.

Older couples continue to fare better than those who live alone, but older women in same-sex couples—a measure considered for the first time in the new report—are more likely to experience economic disadvantages than other couples. Twenty-two percent of older women living as same-sex couples experience economic insecurity compared to 20 percent for older opposite-sex couples and 18 percent for older men living as same-sex couples.

Co-authors of the October 2023 report, which studies 2022 Elder Index estimates, are Nidya Velasco Roldan and Yan-Jhu Su. 

Download “Late-life Gender Disparities in Economic Security”