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Four In Five Women Take Social Security Early

September 17, 2014

Maximizing benefits key to enduring financial challenges in retirement but just 3 percent of women do

Columbus, Ohio - More than four in five women elect to take their Social Security early, which locks in a lower payment for life, but provides immediate income. Despite that many of those retirees say financial problems have taken the shine off what are supposed to be their golden years.

Social Security can represent up to 40 percent of the total income Americans receive throughout retirement. However, according to a survey by the Nationwide Retirement Institute SM, only 15 percent of women waited until their full retirement age and only 3 percent took it late. Women who don’t maximize their Social Security benefits can miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars of retirement income. 

“There are many reasons women take Social Security early. Some mistakenly believe taking it earlier will result in more money over the long run, while others may have been forced into retirement early and need the money,” said Shawn Britt, director of advanced consulting for Nationwide.

Women who took their benefit early report an average monthly payment of $1,025. Those who collected it at their full retirement age have an average $1,270 monthly payment. Of the 471 women surveyed by Harris Poll on behalf of Nationwide, only 10 delayed collecting their benefit until 70. They report an average monthly payment of $1,630 (or 59 percent more than if they had taken it early).

“Many people are not aware of the different options available for taking Social Security income. For example, married women might think about having their husband file and suspend, which will still allow the wife to collect spousal benefits,” Britt said. “The husband will then wait to age 70 to take his. That way, if he dies, she ends up with a much higher payment as a widow.”

“Too many spouses think they can’t do this because they still work. That’s a huge mistake and you can’t go back to correct it later and get that money back,” she added.

Filing early also makes sense if you’re in poor health and don’t expect to live long. But more often than not, the decision is tied to an incorrect expectation about longevity or fear of Social Security running out of money.

“Many people file early because they think ‘once I am in the system they can’t kick me out.’” Britt said. “Others miscalculate how long they have until they breakeven. Many think it’s 85, but for many people it is around 80.”

The fact is life is long – especially for women. Women’s average life expectancy is 86, with one in four reaching 92. That’s a long time to rely on savings, so maximizing retirement income is crucial.

In the survey of 471 women aged 50 or older who are either already retired or plan to retire in the next 10 years -- only 29 percent say life is better than before retirement and 28 percent say life is worse. For those who say it’s worse, most say it’s due to lack of income in retirement and higher than expected cost of living expenses.

Since Social Security benefits are based on average earnings over the best 35 years of a career, women are often penalized for leaving the workforce to raise children or care for a parent.

“Some women have to retire early to care for an elderly parent who has no long-term care coverage,” Britt said. “Women caregivers are two-and-a-half times more likely to end up in poverty and five times more likely to depend primarily on Social Security for income.1

“Having children and being a caregiver can cost women $565,000 in lifetime earnings; plus $25,400 in Social Security benefits and $67,000 in pension benefits2,” Britt said. More than 2.6 million women over the age of 65 lived in poverty in 2012, according to an analysis from the National Women’s Law Center.

Work with an advisor

Women not working with a financial advisor are nearly three times as likely than those who do to say their Social Security payment was less or much less than expected (37 percent vs. 13 percent). Yet, only 33 percent of women work with a financial advisor. “Women who work with an advisor are more likely to receive good advice on optimizing Social Security,” Britt said. “If you have the ability to sacrifice a little for a few years it is worth it. Maximizing benefits will result in less chance of outliving other income sources and reduce the chance of not being able to maintain your lifestyle.”


The 2014 Social Security Study was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Poll on behalf of Nationwide Financial between Feb. 27 and March 4, 2014. The respondents comprised a representative sample of 471 U.S. women aged 50 or older who are either retired or plan to retire in the next 10 years. Results were weighted to the U.S. General Online Population of adults by race/ethnicity, education and region. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. Because the sample is based on those who were invited to participate in the Harris Poll online research panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

About Nationwide

Nationwide, a Fortune 100 company based in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the U.S. and is rated A+ by both A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s. The company provides a full range of insurance and financial services, including auto, commercial, homeowners and life insurance; public and private sector retirement plans, annuities and mutual funds; banking and mortgages; specialty health; pet, motorcycle, boat and farm insurance. For more information, visit


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