Although poverty among older adults is lower than that of other age groups, poverty is twice as high among older women as among older men, and three times as high among older African American women as among older white women. This study for AARP’s Public Policy Institute demonstrates how poverty status among women changes over the life course and is influenced by race, marital status, health status, work experience, and poverty in earlier life.
The study uses data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Mature Women to follow the cohort of women born between 1923 and 1937—the mothers of the baby boomers—from their early 30s through their retirement years, comparing the prevalence of poverty among different subgroups and examining how specific events such as death of a spouse, divorce, or ill health affected poverty status over the entire life course. The results indicate that becoming widows, withdrawing from the labor force, and deteriorating health are all important factors underlying the women’s poverty in old age. Without policy measures providing improved bases for women’s economic well-being over their life course, even greater economic vulnerabilities could face women in old age. (43 pages)