Skip to main content
off the charts

Disability Insurance Greatly Boosts Women’s Financial Security

As the nation celebrates Women’s History Month, our new paper highlights an important source of financial security for women workers and their families: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

By several measures, women over the years have increasingly benefited from SSDI. Here are five facts you should know about women and SSDI:

  1. Nearly equal numbers of men and women now collect SSDI. Though SSDI doesn’t discriminate by sex, for many decades most of its beneficiaries were men. That’s no longer true. Today nearly as many women collect SSDI as men. (See figure.)
  2. Because of their work, more and more women have earned insurance protection from SSDI. To qualify for SSDI, applicants must have a severe medical impairment and a strong record of past work. When “women’s work” was mostly at home and unpaid, these rules effectively kept most women — even those in poor health — from qualifying for SSDI. That changed with the great movement of women into the paid workforce. Today, women are still less likely than men to be insured for SSDI but they’ve closed about 90 percent of the gap.
  3. Insured women’s rate of SSDI receipt has caught up with men’s. That’s a subtle and recent trend. Until the mid-1990s, insured women of any age — that is, women who had worked enough to qualify for SSDI in the event of disability — were much less likely than insured men to receive SSDI benefits. That gender gap puzzled the few researchers who studied it, but it has now vanished.
  4. On average, women get lower SSDI benefits than men. That’s no mystery; typically, women spent a smaller fraction of their adult lives in paid work, and earned less. Still, the gap has narrowed. Women’s average benefit today ($1,069 a month) is 80 percent of men’s; in the 1980s and early 1990s it was 70 percent.
  5. The mix of disabling impairments is somewhat different for men and women on SSDI. Women beneficiaries are likelier to qualify because of a mental or musculoskeletal impairment. They’re likelier to have cancer, but less likely to have circulatory disease or to have suffered a catastrophic injury. And, while SSDI beneficiaries’ death rates far exceed those of the general population, women on SSDI are less likely than men on SSDI to die, and so tend to receive benefits for longer.

SSDI is an important element of financial security for women workers and those who depend on them.  Poor health and work incapacity are no reason to celebrate, but women and men now benefit almost equally from Social Security’s protection in the event of such a blow.