Most Older, Poor Americans Are Women

Women comprise more than two-thirds of impoverished Americans ages 55 and over and their percentage only increases among older age brackets, the Census Bureau says.

Those numbers are in large part because women have longer life expectancies than men, analysts caution. Still, the Census report on Americans age 55 and over, being released today, again spotlights the greater economic vulnerability of older women, says John Rother, legislative director of the American Association of Retired Persons, the country’s largest organization for older people.

Nationally there were about 24.7 million men and 30.6 million women over age 55 in 1999, but the male-to-female ratio dropped steadily with age, the Census Bureau says. In the 55-to-64 bracket, there were 92 men for every 100 women; the ratio fell to 49 men for every 100 women in the 85 and over bracket.

“Women have life expectancies six years longer than men,” says John Haaga, analyst with the nonpartisan research group, the Population Reference Bureau. “In any group of older Americans, the older you go, the more women you will have.”

Hardship Awaits Many

About 5.6 million, or 10 percent of all Americans age 55 and over, lived in poverty in 1998 the Census Bureau says. Nearly 3.7 million of them were women. Among the 1.7 million Americans of ages 75 and over who are living in poverty, 1.3 million were women.

“Almost any way you look at it, women as they get older are disadvantaged compared to men,” Rother says. “That goes a long way to explain why many women are concerned about the future of Social Security.”

Past Census Bureau reports on older Americans looked at people 65 and over. This report was expanded in response to increasing requests to take a broader look.

“But there’s a particular problem for the older women in poverty now in that a lot of them have Social Security benefits as survivors, but a lot of them didn’t accumulate their own savings and pensions,” Haaga says.

Other Findings:

Of the 9.4 million employed men over 55, nearly 19 percent worked in executive, managerial or administrative jobs, more than any other category. Of the 7.7 million women over 55 who are still working, 25 percent were in administrative support or clerical positions, more than any other category. Nine percent of men over 55 were widowed, compared with 32 percent of women. And 37 percent of the 55 and over population lives in the South, more than any other region.