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A Woman's Guide to Social Security

More women are working and paying Social Security taxes than ever before

By Social Security Administration | March 26, 2013

Social Security plays an important role in providing economic security for women.

Nearly 60 percent of the people receiving Social Security benefits are women.

In the 21st century, more women work, pay Social Security taxes and earn credit toward monthly retirement income than at any other time in our nation’s history.

Today, women have challenging choices to make. Some may spend their entire adulthood in a career or job outside the home. Some may work for a few years, leave the labor force to raise children and eventually return to work. And some may choose not to work outside of the home. Whether they work, have worked or have never worked, it is essential that women understand how Social Security can help them and their families.

The Basics

Women tend to care for many people—spouses, children and parents. And although they have made significant strides, women are more likely to earn less over their lifetimes than men. They are less often covered by private retirement plans and more dependent on Social Security—and for a longer period of time since, on average, women live about five years longer than men.

Social Security offers a basic level of protection to all women covered by this program. When women work, they pay taxes into the Social Security system, providing for their own benefits. In addition, their husbands’ earnings can give them Social Security coverage as well. Women who do not work are often covered through their husbands’ work and can receive benefits when they retire, become disabled or die.

Over the years, the level of Social Security protection for women has been strengthened. For example, the amount of benefits for a surviving spouse was raised and benefits for disabled spouses also increased. Economic protection for divorced women improved with the removal of the requirement that the divorced wife must be dependent on her husband. Also, the number of years the couple must be married in order for the divorced spouse to qualify for benefits decreased.

Besides understanding the benefits to which they may be entitled, women also need to be aware of other aspects of the Social Security program. They need to know about providing Social Security coverage for anyone they may hire as a household worker or childcare provider. And they need to know some basics like what to do if they change their names.

While Social Security is a vital program, especially for women, it was never intended to cover all of their financial needs. To live comfortably, everyone needs to plan accordingly. Living within one’s means and saving for the future are big parts of that plan.

What Your Social Security Taxes Pay For

When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn Social Security credits. Credits can count toward your retirement benefits and can qualify you and your family for disability and survivors insurance coverage. In addition, when you pay Medicare taxes, you are earning Medicare protection that can be available to you when you reach age 65 or sooner if you become disabled.

Social Security’s benefit package includes:

  • Retirement benefits paid each month to retired workers as early as age 62.
  • Disability benefits paid each month to workers of all ages who have a severe disability. In some cases, a young worker may qualify for a disability benefit with as little as one and one-half years of work.
  • Family benefits paid each month to the spouse and children of retired or disabled workers.
  • Survivors benefits paid each month to the widow or widower and children of a deceased worker. In some cases, the family of a young deceased worker can receive these benefits even if the worker had as few as one and one-half years of work.
  • Medicare, which helps with hospital bills and provides  limited coverage for skilled nursing facility stays and hospice care. It also can cover doctors’ services and prescription drugs.

Your Social Security Record and Number

Each year your employer sends a copy of your W-2 (Wage and Tax Statement) to Social Security. We compare your name and Social Security number on the W-2 with the information in our files. We add the earnings shown on the W-2 to your Social Security record.

It is critical that your name and Social Security number on your Social Security card agree with your employer’s payroll records and W-2 so that we can credit your earnings to your record. It is up to you to make sure that both Social Security’s records and your employer’s records are correct. If your Social Security card is incorrect, contact any Social Security office to make changes. Check your W-2 form to make sure your employer’s record is correct and, if it is not, give your employer the accurate information.

Protection of Personal Information

Social Security keeps personal and confidential information — names, Social Security numbers, earnings records, ages and beneficiary addresses — for millions of people. Generally, we will discuss your information only with you. When you call or visit us, we will ask you several questions to help us verify your identity. If you want someone else to help with your Social Security business, we need your permission to discuss your information with that person.

You should treat your Social Security number as confidential information and avoid giving it out unnecessarily. You should keep your Social Security card in a safe place with your other important papers. Do not carry it with you unless you need to show it to an employer or service provider.

Based on content from the Social Security Administration article "What Every Woman Should Know."

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