Why Women Need to Plan Carefully to Make the Best Retirement Decisions

At the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER), we are often asked why we focus on women. The answer is simple.  

There are 5.8 million more women than men at age 65. Also, 67 percent of people over age 85 are female. Many individuals age 85 and over end up living in poverty after retirement. Women face greater financial long-term risks than men due to several factors:


  • A longer lifespan.
  • The need to pay for higher medical expenses.
  • The loss of a spouse.
  • The looming risk of running out of money.

At age 65, women can expect to live an average of 21 more years while men can expect to live an average of 18 more years. Younger women born from the Baby Boomer generation are also more likely to be single and never married. Additionally, divorce is especially harmful to women’s financial security.

Having more income during retirement is a direct result of the amount of wages earned, saved, and invested during working years and access to employer-sponsored retirement plans. Caring for children, parents, and spouses means some women spend years out of the job market — nine years on average — and those years of zero income are factored into their benefit calculation.

Women are also twice as likely to work part-time to accommodate family needs, usually in jobs with lower salaries and without access to retirement plans. These circumstances result in women having lower Social Security benefits and less money in savings.

In addition, women are in the difficult position of making big decisions while being unable to afford even a small mistake. For example, many women are surprised that their benefits are reduced by 25 percent if they claim Social Security at age 62, and they may not plan for the possibility of widowhood. Many couples may not understand the importance of maximizing the benefit for the surviving spouse; there is a shortfall after the loss of a spouse due to a decrease of one-third to one-half of their monthly benefit amount. We need to educate women about the value of increasing their benefit by replacing “zero” years with “earnings” years and delaying the start of their benefit.

WISER’s goal is to help women make the best decisions they can with the limited resources they may have. Through the National Resource Center on Women and Retirement, operated in partnership with the Administration for Community Living, WISER educates women about the importance of making financial and retirement planning a priority throughout their lives. Starting early, setting up a my Social Security account, learning the rules of the programs they rely on (Social Security and Medicare), and getting good advice can help women prepare for the unique financial challenges they may face in retirement.

Cindy Hounsell is the president for the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER).


50 thoughts on “Why Women Need to Plan Carefully to Make the Best Retirement Decisions

  1. I will be sixty six in august when will can I file for my SS. I am still working and also if I can still continue to work once I start receiving SS or is there a certain amount with in the quarters I can make with out being penalized

    • Hi Faye, thank you for using our blog. Once you reach your full retirement age, earnings no longer reduce your benefits, no matter how much you earn.

      Keep in mind, if you continue to work while receiving retirement benefits, your monthly benefit amount may increase. As long as you continue to work and receive benefits, we will check your record every year to see whether the additional earnings will increase your monthly benefit. If there is an increase, we will send you a letter telling you of your new benefit amount.

      Our system is set up to take applications four months in advance, and you can apply for your benefits online. Keep in mind that benefits are paid the month after they are due. So, for instance, if you want your benefits to begin with the month of August, you will receive your first benefit payment in September. Please visit our Social Security Retirement Planner for more information. We hope this is helpful.

  2. I am 80 years old and have been receiving benefits since age 62. Is there a way these benefits can be increased? I have heard of refunding ALL benefits received from age 62 to age 66-1/2, then applying for increased benefits starting at age 66-1/2 or so — is this possible?

  3. My wife who has worked full time for 37 years has reached 62 and can get the required 75% of her FRA benefits.
    I am at FRA now.

    Does my wife taking benefits now affect how much I will receive when I require.

    Yes her 75% is slightly more than 1/2 of my amount at my age now 66 FRA

  4. I am a married woman and plan on taking my Social Security benefits at age 62. Is there a benefit when I turn 67 to start taking spousal benefits instead? Am I entitled to receive a percentage of my husband’s Social Security at a reduced rate? If so,what would the percentage be.

    In addition if my husband were to die before me and I was at full retirement age can I switch to his Social Security instead of mine? If so, will I receive a reduced monthly amount?

    • Hello Teri, thanks for using our blog. We will always pay your own retirement benefit first. If your benefits as a spouse are higher than your own retirement benefits, you will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse benefit. However, the spouse’s benefit cannot exceed one-half of your husband’s full retirement amount (not his reduced benefit amount). So, you can only receive additional spouse’s benefits if your own full retirement benefit (not your reduced benefit) is less than half of your husband’s full retirement benefit.

      Generally, during the initial interview when applying for your own Social Security retirement benefits, we typically explore all other benefits that could yield you a higher benefit amount. If your husband hasn’t yet filed, we will look into additional spouse’s benefits for you when he does file for his own retirement benefits.

      Widows benefits are payable as early as age 60 (for a reduced benefit) or a full widowers benefit at full retirement age or older.
      Use our Survivors Planner to see what benefits you may be eligible for if your husband passed away.

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