Earnings Gap Hits Mom’s Social Security
Mothers often work less because, well, they’re also moms.
Still, they generally work consistently enough to qualify for Social Security pensions based on their own earnings records – rather than on their husbands’, as was common when more women were full-time housewives or worked just a few hours a week while the kids were at school.
Yet today’s working mothers do take a hit to their earnings when they temporarily reduce their hours or take a hiatus from work for childcare. The upshot of lower earnings is less Social Security income later for mothers, according to a new study by researchers for the Center for Retirement Research (CRR supports this blog).
The researchers, Matt Rutledge, Alice Zulkarnain, and Sara Ellen King, used data on all older women – married or single, mother or not. First, they confirmed past studies showing that the typical mom earns about $2,760 per month – or 28 percent less than a childless woman earns. Having two children translates to nearly 32 percent less income, and three children, to 35 percent less. (The analysis adjusts for some things – education is one – but not all the factors that distinguish mothers from non-mothers.)
Mothers’ lower Social Security benefits reflect this earnings penalty, though by a smaller percentage. Mothers’ benefit checks are 16 percent less than women who had no children to care for. Benefits are also lower if they had more children – by 18 percent for two children and nearly 21 percent for three.
Mitigating the impact on mom’s benefits are the Social Security program’s progressive calculations for lower-income workers and the spousal benefit for moms who work part-time or not at all. A spousal benefit, equal to half of a working husband’s benefit, is almost like a bonus to them – even the stay-at-home moms receive it, though they don’t have a work history. Nevertheless, mothers overall do receive lower benefits.
Many European countries have addressed this disparity. Policies under the federal social security systems of Portugal, Spain, Austria, and Sweden, for example, give mothers (and sometimes fathers) earnings credits for time spent out of the labor force during pregnancy and child-rearing. The credits apply when it’s time to calculate their retirement benefits. Similar proposals for the United States haven’t gotten very far.
While nothing may be more rewarding than motherhood, smaller retirement benefits are a reality in this country.
The research reported herein was performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.