Do Single Women or Married Women Do Better in Retirement?

Women with mates benefit materially in retirement.
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Marriage is a boon to retirement planning, with married women having several advantages over single women; but that doesn't mean that if you're single, you should rush to get hitched to secure security in your old age. With careful planning and diligence, single women can fare just as well.


Married couples tend to amass more wealth than single people, especially single women. In 2009, Census Bureau data showed that the median income for all U.S. married households was $58,428, while it was only $20,957 for single women. Married women have the advantage of being able to split household expenses with their partners, which leaves more money available for saving and investing; whereas single women bear the sole burden for their bills and expenses.

Social Security

Social Security benefits also tend to favor married women. This is because spouses have the option of drawing benefits based on either their own income or that of their mates. They can also switch incomes, which means that a married woman who earned less than her husband can claim benefits based on his income when she turns 62, and then switch to benefits based on her own income when she reaches full retirement age. For single women to have that option, they must have been married for 10 years at some point to someone who qualifies for Social Security.

Retirement Savings

Although Americans are terrible at saving for retirement in general, with less than 50 percent of all households being on track to maintain their standard of living after retirement, single women tend to be farther behind the curve than married women. A study done by the Employee Benefit Research Institute showed that in 2011, married Gen X couples -- those born between 1965 and 1974 -- were on average $32,048 behind in their retirement planning, whereas single women from the same age group had a retirement deficit of more than $75,000. What's more, women generally tend to live longer than men, which means that a single woman's retirement savings must last longer than do her male counterpart's nest egg.

Health and Financial Risks

Single women are also at greater risk of losing all of their assets because of job loss or health complications. A 2006 study by the Center for Retirement Research found that single adults in general are more likely to develop a serious medical condition, suffer a disability or enter a nursing home than married couples. Disability was found to reduce wealth by about 42 percent for single individuals, compared with only 16 percent for married couples. Singles are also more likely to face job layoffs, and without a spouse's income to fall back on, they risk losing as much as 33 percent of their net worth, as opposed to only 21 percent for married couples.

Retirement Tips for Single Women

Just like your single male counterparts, single women can help themselves now for a comfortable retirement. Make a good retirement plan a top priority when searching for a job. Working as long as you can for as high a salary as possible will increase your Social Security benefits. Educate yourself on financial matters and keep a close eye on your finances.

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