The shift in women's labor force participation has been dramatic. When the cohort of women born between 1931 and 1935 were between 24 and 35 years old, just 37 percent of them worked, but when the Generation X women born between 1966 and 1975 were that age, 75 percent of them did, according to earlier work by the researchers. As a result, they project that while 44 percent of the older cohort received Social Security benefits based on their own work history, some 75 percent of the Gen X cohort will.
The mass movement of women into the workforce is affecting how many of them will receive spousal Social Security benefits. Some 56 percent of the women born between 1931 and 1935 received these benefits, either as their only benefit or as an addition to their own Social Security benefit. For Gen X women born between 1966 and 1975, just 25 percent are expected to receive benefits as their sole benefit or as a supplement to their own.
Women are "more likely to receive some benefit on their own work history," though they continue to receive some help from spousal benefits, said Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women's Law Center.
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At the same time, the marriage rate has been decreasing. Some 84 percent of the women born between 1931 and 1935 were married at ages 25 to 34, and almost 70 percent of them were married at ages 55 to 64. But for women born between 1966 and 1975, fewer than 60 percent were married at ages 25 to 34 and the researchers expect that rate to drop to 56 percent at ages 55 to 64.
That shift is leaving fewer women eligible to receive a spousal benefit, or the survivor's benefit available to spouses who outlive their partners.
"The declining marriage rate is much more detrimental to women in Social Security than men," Entmacher said. "They earn less, they live longer, and they are much more likely to be single parents," which makes it harder to work full time and put away money for later in life.