By Tatsuko Go Hollo

It’s no secret that women are paid less than men across many industries. It’s also been well-documented that women are much more likely than men to work part-time. Unfortunately, employees who work part-time are often ineligible for essential benefits, such as health insurance, paid leave or a retirement plan.

That’s where Social Security comes in. It’s crucial to keeping women out of poverty. In fact, without it nearly half of women 65 and older would be living in poverty. But as good as Social Security is, the average benefit for women 65 and older is at least $3,500 lower per year than it is for men. Women aged 75 and older are more than twice as likely as men of the same age to live in poverty.

Why? Because Social Security doesn’t reflect the reality that women tend to take on caregiver roles (such as parenting a child or caring for a sick parent) that require them to limit their involvement in the workforce. Benefits are based on wages averaged over 35 years, so caregivers (frequently women) are penalized for those periods of time when they are not collecting wages.

Women rely on Social Security income more than men. Not only are more beneficiaries women (57% of all beneficiaries over 62 are women), but for 29% of female beneficiaries over 65, Social Security is essentially their only source of income, compared with 21% of their male counterparts. Keep in mind that women have a longer lifespan than men too. So for women that rely on Social Security for the majority of their income, they must live longer on less.

So of course Social Security must remain intact; it is one of the most significant programs protecting women, men and children from poverty. But for women in particular, poverty becomes more likely with older age. Social Security benefits need to be calculated to account for years women spend caregiving, and to compensate for the persistent pay gap between men and women in the workforce.

This blog is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival and was originally posted at the Washington Policy Watch blog.

Photo from Flickr user DonkeyHotey under Creative Commons 2.0.