Social Security: 5 Uncomfortable Questions Every Woman Needs Answered

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Women tend to live longer than men, on average, according to the Social Security Administration. Yet, they earn less than men over their lifetime. That leads to women receiving 81% of the amount men receive from Social Security during their retirement — when they might need that money to maintain their quality of life. Over a 30-year retirement, GoBankingRates recently reported, men will receive roughly $127,000 more from Social Security than women.

But that’s not the only way women and men differ when it comes to Social Security benefits. Depending on their personal situations, women may have to ask some hard questions about Social Security before they retire. It helps to know the answers so you can plan ahead.

Here are five common concerns women have about Social Security retirement benefits and some good reasons not to worry. If you have any further questions, of course, don’t be shy. Contact your local Social Security office for information about your specific situation.

How does it affect my Social Security benefits if I left the workforce to raise children or care for aging relatives?

You must have earned 40 credits — you can earn up to four credits per year — and paid into Social Security to collect Social Security benefits. Your benefits are based on your 35 highest-earning years. So if you work part-time while your children are young or because you have caregiving duties, you may be able to boost your eventual benefit by working more than 35 years. Years in which you earned more will replace those years where you earned less when your Social Security benefits are calculated.

Are You Retirement Ready?

If you are in danger of not making 40 credits (10 working years), you can take on a part-time job or gig work while your children are young or wait a few extra years to retire until you’ve reached the minimum. However, you’ll need to earn at least $1,510 to earn one credit in 2022.

You can maximize your benefits by waiting to file for Social Security until you reach age 70.

If I am divorced, can I still collect Social Security benefits based on my ex-spouse’s earnings?

Yes, you can collect Social Security benefits based on your divorced spouse’s earnings. You’ll need your ex-spouse’s Social Security number or birth date, place of birth and the names of their parents to apply.

You can qualify for benefits if:

  • You were married for 10+ years
  • You haven’t re-married
  • You’re 62 years old or older

If your ex-spouse is 62 or older but hasn’t applied for benefits, you can still apply as long as you’ve been divorced for two years or more.

Even if your ex-spouse is deceased you may qualify for benefits. In that case, you can collect benefits if:

  • You were married at least 10 years
  • You’re 60 years old (or 50 if you are disabled)
  • Your own benefits wouldn’t be more than what you can collect under your deceased ex-spouse

If you are the caregiver for your ex-spouses’ child, who is also your natural or legally adopted child, under the age of 16 or disabled and entitled to benefits, you can collect your ex-spouse’s retirement benefits regardless of how long you were married.

Are You Retirement Ready?

What happens if my spouse dies before I reach retirement age?

Losing a spouse can be devastating, but it can be especially stressful if you were counting on your spouse’s benefits and you haven’t yet reached retirement age.

There’s good news if you should find yourself in this situation. Anyone age 60+ (or disabled persons who are 50+) can claim widow’s benefits. If you’re caring for a child under the age of 16, you may also claim your deceased spouse’s benefits.

However, you will waive your rights to claim survivor’s benefits if you remarry before the age of 60. If you are 60 or older (50 or older if disabled) and re-marry, you can still collect benefits as a widow. But if your new spouse is receiving larger benefits, you can claim the spouse’s benefit instead. You cannot claim both a spouse’s benefit and a widow’s benefit at the same time.  

Can my family receive my Social Security benefits if I die?

If you die, your spouse, children and parents may be eligible for Social Security benefits based on your work history.

Your spouse can receive survivor’s benefits if they are:

  • Age 60+
  • Age 50+ and disabled
  • Caring for your child under 16 or a child who is disabled

Your children can collect benefits if they are:

  • Unmarried
  • 18 or younger
  • Between the ages of 18 and 19 and in an elementary or secondary school as full-time students
  • Age 18+ and severely disabled with a condition that started before they turned 22

Your parents can collect benefits based on your earnings if they relied on you for at least half their support. If you declared them as dependents on your income taxes, they may be entitled to Social Security benefits if you die.

Are You Retirement Ready?

I’m a caregiver for an aging parent or another relative. Can I collect benefits to help support them?

If you are the caregiver of a parent, grandparent or another relative who is either disabled or aging and cannot manage their own benefits, you can become a representative payee. You will receive that person’s benefits and can use them to fund their food, shelter, medical and dental bills, personal needs and recreation.

What happens if I was a victim of domestic abuse or violence and had to change my identity?

More than 35% of women have experienced domestic violence, according to statistics from the National Domestic Violence hotline. If your situation has become so severe that you’ve had to change jobs, move or even change your name and identity, you may eventually wonder what this means for your Social Security benefits.

If you change your name, it is possible to also change your Social Security number to make it harder for your abuser to track you down. You can apply for a new number in person at your local Social Security office. You should change your name and address first, and avoid applying for new credit under your new name until you have a new SSN.

You’ll need to provide:

  • Evidence documenting harassment or abuse
  • Your current SSN
  • Evidence of your U.S. citizenship or work-authorized immigration status
  • Age
  • Identity
  • Evidence of a legal name change, if you’ve changed your name

Your Social Security office can help you obtain the evidence you need, including court, police or medical records, or letters from family, friends or domestic violence shelter staff who can attest to abuse.

Are You Retirement Ready?

The Social Security Administration provides additional information specific to women and Social Security benefits in the publication “What Women Should Know.”

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