Older Women And Poverty: A Not So Rosy Picture

Since the 1970s, the number of people over age 65 who are poor has decreased dramatically—from more than one in four to fewer than one in 10 today. Unfortunately, these numbers do not provide the whole picture. For older women, especially older minority women, the data from the March 2007 Current Population Survey show that the reduction in poverty for women has not been nearly as positive as the overall poverty numbers imply.

What Is Poverty? In the U.S., when we say someone is “poor” or falls below the “poverty threshold” we mean that person’s annual income is below the amount considered to be the annual minimum of cash income required to support a family of a given size. For a single person age 65 or older in 2009, the poverty threshold was $10,289. For individuals under age 65, the threshold was $11,161.

Why Are Women More Likely than Men To Be Poor? Diverse work patterns and movement in and out of the paid labor force to care for children or other family members generally means that women earn less than men and are less likely to have pensions or retirement savings accounts. Additionally, women at age 65 are expected to live another 19 years—three years longer than men. This means that what money they have saved for retirement, if any, must last longer than men’s.

Are All Older Women Poor? The poverty rate for all women age 65 and older is 10.7 percent, just over one in 10. However, for African American and Hispanic women, the poverty rates are almost double that. Just over one-fifth of African American and Hispanic women (21.5 percent and 21.3 percent respectively), fall below the poverty level.

In contrast, the overall poverty rate for men is 6.6 percent, or about half the poverty rate of women. Broken out by race, the portion of African American and Hispanic men who are poor is larger than the portion of white men who are poor (15.7 percent, 14.4 percent and 5.3 percent respectively). Yet, the poverty rates for each of the cohorts of men are still lower than the poverty rates for women.

Who Are the Near Poor?  Even if the measure is raised to 150 percent of the poverty threshold (approximately $15,434 for those older than 65), what some call “near poor,” older women still fall behind older men. The data for women age 65 and older who are “near poor” are striking:

  • Almost one in four women (24.1 percent) 65 and older have incomes below 150 percent of poverty.
  • Aproximately 40 percent of older African American and Hispanic women and have incomes below 150 percent of poverty


The comparable rates for men over age 65 are white, 13.5 percent; African American, 32.3 percent and Hispanic, 32 percent.


Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010. 


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