Age Gender and Inequality
Age, gender, and poverty our tuned. Although middle-aged and older corner, make up an increasing portion of the work force, the}’ are paid substantially less than men their age, receive raises at a slower pace, and still work largely in gender-segregated jobs (see Chapter 11). As a result, women do not garner economic security for their retirement years at the same rate that m any men do. These factors have contributed to the economic marginality of the current cohort of
older women (Gonyea, 1994). In one study, the gerontologists Melissa A. Hardyand Lawrence E. Hazelrigg (1993). found that gender was more directly related to poverty in older persons than was race/ethnicity, educational background, or occupational status. Hardy and Alighieri (I993) suggested th t many women who are now age 65 and over spent their early adult lives as financial dependents Iof husbands or as working non married women try- ~ ing to support themselves in a culture that did not see women as the heads of households or as sale providers of family income. Because they were not viewed as being responsible for a family’s financial security, i women were paid less; therefore, older women may ihave to rely on inadequate income replacement programs originally designed to treat them as dependents. Wu men also have a greater risk of poverty in their later years; statistically, women tend to marry men who are ‘”?, older than themselves, and women live longer than men. Consequently, nearly half of all women over age 65 are widowed and living alone on fixed incomes (Smith,2003).
As shown in Figure 12.2, the percentage of persons aged 65 and older living below the poverty lineline decreased significantly between 1980 and 2000. This largely resulted from increasing benefit t levels of entitlements- certain benefit payments paid. by the government, including Social Security, Supplemental Social Income (S51), Medicare, Medicaid, and civil service pensions, which are the primary source of income for many persons over age 65 (Moody, 2002). Ninety percent of all people in the United States over age 65 draw Social Benefits (AARP, 2002). Social Security and 5S! provide virtually all of the financial support available to 25 percent of people over age 65. Analysts note that Social Security keeps more white
men out of poverty than it doe white women and people of color (Browne and Broderick, 1994). The effectiveness of Social Security as a means of escaping poverty declines as age increases for all groups except white men (Axinn, 1989). Even for white men, Social Security does not provide the financial security in their later years that many of them thought it would when they were younger. For example, when Harold Milton was asked if he had ever worried about how he
would manage after he retired. he responded. “No. it never entered my mind. You see, I was counting on my Social Security:’ When he retired. Milton found that he
could not live on his Socia Security benefits of $250 arid SSI of $86 per month, so he took a part-time job as a handyman to earn another $100 per month (Margolis.
1990). According to many social analysts. Social Security is in need of change and might fail outright before many of today’s young people reach retirement age. Medicare. the other of the two largest entitlement programs. is a nationwide health care program for persons aged 65 and older who are covered by Social Security or who are eligible to “buy into” the program by paying a monthly premium (Latchkey and Barusch, 2004). Although Medicare’s primary purpose is to provide long-term support. it only partially docs so. The reasons for this apparent contradiction are (I) skilled nursing care other than in a hospital is covered only if it immediately follows at least three days in a hospital (and many people are not sick enough to qualify for hospital care), and (2) Medicare reimburses only the first ninety days of hospital care or the first hundred days of skilled nursing care (Atchley and Barusch, 2004).