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Why Older Women Face Greater Financial Hardship Than Older Men

After a gray divorce, women’s living standards fell by 45 percent, Dr. Lin and her co-author, while that of men fell by just 21 percent. By remarrying or living together, divorced older women were able to regain their financial position, but only 22 percent of women remarried, compared to 37 percent of men. (In Ms. Palazzo’s case, “That’s not going to happen.”)

Changes in social security entitlements and benefits may reduce some of this inequality. For example, the benefit for a divorced spouse is half of what a spouse that widow can claim. Caregiver credits could partially compensate for years spent raising children or caring for the elderly.

“The ground rules were written in the 1930s,” said Dr. Rutledge. “They don’t recognize the increased employment of women. They don’t realize that people don’t stay married forever.” Mandatory retirement savings programs (Australia has one) would also help workers whose employers don’t offer them.

It is possible to see progress in these patterns. “It’s good news that women are working and living independently and emerging as independent economic actors,” said Teresa Ghilarducci, an economist at The New School, noting that younger women narrowed the gender gap in income and savings.

But many women nearing retirement can struggle, especially if they’re single like Ms. Hartt. She now lives frugally on a $2,500 monthly allowance. She drives a 2001 2001 Nissan leak that she won’t be able to replace if it dies. “Because I have no family and no savings, I worry if I become physically or mentally disabled,” she said.

A windfall: In September 2020, she moved into a cheerful apartment in a Section 8 public housing complex in New Haven, for seniors and people with disabilities. The rent is $670 per month, including utilities.

“I feel safe,” she said. “I have a kind of peace.” And because she hasn’t completely crushed her optimism yet, she buys a few lottery tickets every week.

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