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Social Security for women

The Social Security program treats all workers - men and women - exactly the same in terms of the benefits they can receive.

But women may want to familiarize themselves with what the program means to them in their particular circumstances. Understanding the benefits may mean the difference between living more comfortably versus just getting by in retirement.

Social Security plays a vital role in the lives of women. With longer life expectancies than men, women tend to live more years in retirement and have a greater chance of exhausting other sources of income. With the national average life expectancy for women in the United States rising, many women will have decades to enjoy retirement.

Women represent 57 percent of all Social Security beneficiaries age 62 and older and approximately 68 percent of beneficiaries age 85 and older.

Today the average life expectancy of a 65 year old woman is age 85. As a result, experts generally agree that if women want to ensure that their retirement years are comfortable, they need to plan early and wisely.

In 2010, for unmarried women - including widows - age 65 and older, Social Security comprises 49 percent of their total income. In contrast, Social Security benefits comprise only 37 percent of unmarried elderly men’s income and only 32 percent of elderly couples’ income.

What you can do

The best place to begin is by knowing what you can expect to receive from Social Security, and how much more you are likely to need.

Start with a visit to Social Security’s Retirement Estimator. There, in just a few minutes, you can get a personalized, instant estimate of your retirement benefits. You can find it at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.

You should also visit Social Security’s financial planning website at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners. It provides detailed information about how marriage, widowhood, divorce, self-employment, government service and other life or career events can affect your Social Security.

If you want more information about the role of Social Security in women’s lives today, Social Security also has a booklet that you may find useful. It is called Social Security: What Every Woman Should Know. You can find it online at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10127.html.

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