Why Elderly Women are More Likely to Live in Poverty

Feb 25, 2015

It’s generally known that women tend to live longer than men. But what’s less known is how the same longevity can be a  financial burden for women.

Last month, the Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City and the MU Institute of Public Policy released a report called Status of Women in Missouri. According to the report, women make up two-thirds of the Missourians aged 65 and older who are living in poverty.

“Their lives are much longer but then you couple that with the pay gap,” said Wendy Doyle, President and CEO of the Women's Foundation.

 

On a national level, women typically make 78 cents for every dollar made by a man. In Missouri, the gap is even larger, with the average woman earning 71 cents for every dollar earned by men.

 

Doyle said this income disparity is one of the main reasons women are more likely to fall into poverty later in life.

“They have to stretch their dollar and their savings much longer than men do. And so that really is the driver of why older women are in poverty,” Doyle said.

Income disparity can also affect women throughout their lives. Single moms are especially vulnerable to what researcher Jacqueline Schumacher with the MU Institute of Public Policy calls chronic poverty.

“Often women and their families will dip in and out of poverty throughout the course of a year,” Schumacher said.

Schumacher said opportunity and support for women to enter and remain in the workforce is important for making sure they can maintain financial security later in life.

“Making sure that they can make living wage and that they can support themselves," Schumacher said. "Often making ends meet for basic needs is a challenge and that's not something that gets necessarily easier when you are over the age of 65.”

And where a woman lives may be just as important as her age. Schumacher said urban areas tend to have more resources available to women of all ages.

“Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield have just a more robust network of social services," Schumacher said. "When you go into more rural and out-county areas, those nets just become a little more thin and a little more fragile.”

The problem of financial security for older women is not just limited to Missouri.  Pat Lewis is the Communications Director for the National Older Women’s League, an advocacy organization for women over 40. Lewis said all women need to take an active approach early in life to ensure their own financial security later.

“It's really important that we all start paying attention well before we become older," Lewis said. "Because we can do things for ourselves in terms of retirement but we have to pay attention to the public policy measures that are being implemented from everything like Meals on Wheels to debates over social security because those programs are so critical to helping people age well. Things that seem so far off in our future like social security really aren't.”