Here’s One Way Social Security Could Improve Couples’ Life Expectancy.


When to claim Social Security retirement benefits is a difficult decision.

When two people are involved, the decision may become even more complicated, especially if one of the spouses is the primary breadwinner.



Lafayette College research looks at how Social Security benefits could better meet the financial needs of these couples.

According to the study, one solution would be to make spousal benefits slightly less generous in order to provide larger survivor benefits later on if the primary earner died.

The bill aims to modernize federal SSI benefits for the elderly and disabled.

According to Erin Cottle Hunt, assistant professor of economics at Lafayette, the reason is that spousal benefits are not as beneficial to couples as survivor benefits.

“It’s really bad news for the wife if she hasn’t worked and the husband dies and he’s no longer around to collect Social Security,” Cottle Hunt said.

As a result, there is a “huge loss of income,” emphasizing the importance of survivor benefits.

“The benefit that pays her a widow benefit, the survivor benefit,” Cottle Hunt explained, “is very important, and it has very large welfare gains associated with it.”

Spousal benefits vs. survivor benefits

Spousal benefits allow a husband or wife to claim Social Security benefits based on the work record of their spouse. Based on their full retirement age, they may receive up to half of their husband’s or wife’s benefit. This may be reduced if the husband or wife files their claim early.

Survivor benefits generally entitle widows and widowers to the worker’s retirement benefits at the time of death. When the primary earner decides to claim benefits also has an impact on the amount of these monthly survivor checks.

To be sure, additional rules apply for both spousal and survivor benefits, including the age of the spouse receiving benefits, whether the couple has dependent children, and whether the couple is divorced, among other things.

If you have any questions about your eligibility, you should contact the Social Security Administration.

Survivor benefits are now received by nearly 3.8 million non-disabled and disabled widows and widowers. Spousal benefits are received by approximately 2.1 million spouses of retired workers.

The average survivor benefit for those spouses could be $1,559 per month, while the average spousal benefit is around $838 per month.

“If you just made the spousal benefit a little bit smaller and the survivor benefit a little bit bigger, the couples who are eligible for those benefits would be a little bit better off,” Cottle Hunt explained.

Furthermore, the change could be implemented in a budget-neutral manner, avoiding the current funding shortfall for Social Security, according to Cottle Hunt.

Other research has suggested that Social Security spousal benefits could be reduced in order to increase survivor benefits.

A 2018 report from Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research included the concept as a way to help prevent widows from falling into poverty.

According to the Center for Retirement Research, the poverty rate for widows aged 65 and up was three times that of married women.

The loss of retirement income is a major reason why widows become impoverished. This includes reductions in a couple’s Social Security income, which is typically reduced by one-third to one-half.


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“Overall, increasing the widow benefit — while limiting the size of the increase for higher-income earners — appears to offer a well-targeted way to help reduce poverty for this vulnerable group,” according to the Center for Retirement Research report.

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