OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers

This series is designed to make available to a wider readership selected labour market, social policy and migration studies prepared for use within the OECD. Authorship is usually collective, but principal writers are named. The papers are generally available only in their original language - English or French - with a summary in the other.

English, French

The Role of Derived Rights for Old-age Income Security of Women

1. This paper analyses the income situation of older women living alone and examines the role of pension entitlements from derived rights for their income security. The data shows that the share of elderly women living alone is expected to increase substantially due to population ageing and women’s longer life expectancy. Many of them are at greater risk of poverty than aged couples. Taking into account that poverty among older women living alone has been on the rise in many OECD countries, old age income security of widows and divorcees will remain a challenge for policy makers. 2. The analysis of income sources shows that survivors’ pensions and divorcees’ benefits form the largest share of the incomes of elderly women living alone. It also finds a relatively strong negative relationship between the size of the pension benefit and the poverty level of older women living alone. Thus, the structure and level of public pension schemes play an important role for income adequacy and poverty risks of this group. Most OECD pension systems offer protection for widows and divorcees through contributory or non-contributory benefits. Entitlements derived from the rights of an income-earning spouse are usually calculated as a percentage of the insured worker’s rights. Preliminary calculations show that in the OECD countries examined here, non-working widows and working widows receive an average pension level of 36 and 50%, respectively, compared to an average level for couples of nearly 60% of average earnings. 3. The high poverty rate of older women living alone suggests that survivors’ pension schemes or pension benefits for divorcees are not entirely successful in providing old-age income security for this target group. As an increasing number of women work and earn their own pension entitlements, derived pension rights may become less important. However, adequate pensions will require full-time work over the whole career. In countries where women work more part-time and experience longer career interruptions due to caring for children or elderly relatives, pensions based on own contributions may be quite low. Whether poverty prevention for this group is best addressed by benefits from derived rights or by the general old-age safety net will depend on the degree of full-time female labour force participation and the evolution of poverty of older women living alone relative that of the overall older population.


JEL: I38: Health, Education, and Welfare / Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty / Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty: Government Policy; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
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