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Book documents economic, health disparities that women encounter in retirement

November 20, 2007 By Karen Faster

Gender gaps that women experience on the job and in the home continue into retirement. Women older than 65 are twice as likely as men to live below the poverty line. They receive smaller Social Security benefits and are less likely to receive private pensions. Efforts in Washington to shrink and privatize social welfare programs likely would worsen this gender gap and increase inequality among women by race, class and marital status.

The reasons behind the gap and how policy proposals would affect older adults are outlined in a new book by Pamela Herd of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Madonna Harrington Meyer of Syracuse University. An assistant professor with the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs, Herd is a nationally recognized expert on the effects of Medicare and Social Security on gender, race and class, and the relationship between socioeconomic status and health.

The book, "Market Friendly or Family Friendly? The State and Gender Inequality in Old Age," published this fall by Russell Sage, documents the cumulative disadvantages that impede women from achieving economic and health security when they retire. These disadvantages include wage discrimination and occupational segregation that lifetime earnings, and depress savings and Social Security benefits.

"While more women are employed today than a generation ago, they continue to shoulder a greater share of the care burden for children, older adults and people with disabilities," says Herd, who has a joint appointment with the UW–Madison Department of Sociology. "Moreover, as marriage rates decline, more working mothers raise children single-handedly. Women face higher rates of health problems due to their lower earnings and the high demands associated with unpaid care work."