As Men live longer because of lifestyle changes how will this affect women and economic costs that comes with aging?
If you’re heading toward or are in your “golden years”, you may find a recent NY Times piece interesting. According to census figures the number of men age 65 and older increased by 21 percent from 2000 to 2010, nearly double the 11.2 percent growth rate for women in that age group. The article went on to convey the views on the implications of this from people who work in areas relevant to the aging population. The one remarkable thing that perhaps most men are not aware of at these later ages that women are is that financial resources are significantly less for women when their spouse dies.
Several factors on this emerge:
- Social Security payments are based on lifetime income. Since women have and continue to make less than men, their Social Security benefits will also be less. Once the husband dies widows will only receive continuing payments from their husbands benefits that are 1/3 to 1/2 less than the full payment he was receiving. Thus, by men living longer this deficit will diminish. A plus for women.
- Women tend to be the caregivers and historically as men suffer from aging diseases quicker than women it is the female partner who has to provide care for her partner. Because they live longer than men, women are less likely to have a partner to care for them in their final years. The savings they have is diminished as they take care of them.
- Of the “old old” over 85 — the frailest, poorest group of elderly Americans, the 8.5 million that will exist in 2030 will continue to live too long to live well and the vast majority will still be women.
Apart from the economic conditions elder women face another challenge that hits men less frequently. Divorces that occur just before or during the retirement years are not kind to women. They usually have no savings of their own and there is little property or cash to recoup in a settlement if both partners are basically poor. Also, because men’s looks don’t seem to decline as rapidly as women’s they are better able to woo younger partners. Stephanie Coontz who teaches history and family studies at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. makes this point in her commentary. “[I]t remains true that older men have more opportunities than older women to repartner with someone of a younger age.” It’s a sad reality in our society that puts too much into looks but it is one that will likely go unchanged.
In the other commentaries that accommodate this article there were some interesting points that were raised.
- “Gender values and behaviors have been changing dramatically, and that’s good news for both men and women. Men have steadily upped their participation in housework and childcare since 1965. Their share of the cooking, for example, has risen by more than sixfold. Men have been gaining skills and values that make them more capable of caring for themselves and for others.” says Ms. Coontz
- “The facts of old age in America contradict the Panglossian view, suited to the ideology of draconian budget cuts, that baby boomers will be better able to fend for themselves than the old are today. Unless they possess vast wealth, Americans grow poorer with every decade after retirement — and women grow poorer than men. Among Americans over 65 living below the official poverty line, three-quarters are women. The cruelest gender paradox is that while women generally outlive men, their risk of serious age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and diabetes is two-and-a-half times greater”, says Susan Jacoby, author of nine books, including “Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of Old Age.”
- “The new figures indicate a reduction in Social Security costs as a result of the lower-than-expected life expectancy among women … because their marginal cost [within the Social Security system] usually increases when the husband dies. Social Security’s chief actuary says that these cost savings have already been incorporated in the system’s financial projections” according to Alicia H. Munnell, a former member of the Council of Economic Advisers and director of Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research.
- “Thanks to the marvels of modern science, pharmaceutical and surgical, men no longer drop dead of heart attacks in their early 60s as their fathers did. But will they keep pace with women into their late 80s and beyond, what we now define as old age, and the population group that costs Medicare the most money and makes the current age tsunami a largely female phenomenon?”, says Jane Gross, the author of “A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aged Parents and Ourselves.’’ and is a former New York Times national reporter, who started the “New Old Age” blog.
- David Blake, the director of the Pensions Institute and professor of pension economics at the Cass Business School, City University, in London also considers this issue: “It is not yet clear what effect this convergence in life expectancy will have on the health of couples in retirement or on their cause of death. Will there also be convergence there, too? If so, which way will it be? Will more women die of heart attacks or will more men end up sitting in care homes oblivious to their surroundings?”
There is however one aspect that concerns me about this new revelation on men living longer. I have for the most part enjoyed my life to this point and look forward to a couple of more years that might not otherwise have been there had I continued my unhealthy ways. But should these extended years see the deterioration of my physical capabilities to the point that make me mostly or entirely dependent on others, I would see them as a negative factor for having enabled them. I have addressed the right-to-die issue in a previous article . Perhaps I can use these added years then to work towards this end, whether I need it personally or not.