SAGE: Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders
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Social Security



After many years of facing unequal access to critical Social Security benefits like spousal, survivor and death benefits, same-sex married couples and widows, are now generally on the same footing as their opposite-sex counterparts.

Key Facts

Social Security is the single most important financial safety net program for older adults and makes the difference between poverty and a living-wage retirement for a significant portion of older Americans. Almost all elder households (89 percent) receive Social Security, and almost a third of single retirees receive income only from Social Security.

Data show that same-sex and heterosexual couples are similarly dependent on Social Security to maintain a living-wage income. However, contrary to stereotypes, LGBT older adults as a group are poorer and less financially secure than American elders as a whole.

Also, many older LGBT people lived the majority of their working years in an era when discrimination was widespread and legal (as it still is in many parts of the country) and job opportunities were limited.

FOR LGBT ELDERS, A LIFETIME OF EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION TRANSLATES INTO EARNING DISPARITIES, REDUCED LIFELONG EARNINGS, SMALLER SOCIAL SECURITY PAYMENTS, AND FEWER OPPORTUNITIES TO BUILD PENSIONS.

DESPITE SIMILAR RELIANCE ON SOCIAL SECURITY, AND HIGH POVERTY RATES AMONG LGBT OLDER ADULTS, LGBT ELDERS WHO ARE NOT MARRIED OR DID NOT GET MARRIED BEFORE THEIR PARTNER DIED ARE NOT EQUALLY ELIGIBLE FOR SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS.The Social Security benefits unavailable to partnered but unmarried LGBT elders include the "spousal benefit," the "survivor benefit" and the "death benefit."

AMONG THE SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS DENIED TO LONG-TIME PARTNERED BUT UNMARRIED LGBT ELDERS, THE LACK OF SURVIVOR BENEFITS IS THE MOST HARMFUL. Not only is the surviving partner widowed, but the legal invisibility of the partner's relationship to the deceased could now leave him or her in financial crisis.


To learn more about SAGE's federal advocacy work on Social Security, please contact Aaron Tax, Director of Federal Government Relations, at 202-640-2705 or at atax@sageusa.org.


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