Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Market Friendly or Family Friendly?

Market Friendly or Family Friendly?: The State and Gender Inequality in Old Age

Madonna Harrington Meyer
Pamela Herd
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Market Friendly or Family Friendly?
    Book Description:

    Poverty among the elderly is sharply gendered—women over 65 are twice as likely as men to live below the poverty line. Older women receive smaller Social Security payments and are less likely to have private pensions. They are twice as likely as men to need a caregiver and twice as likely as men to be a caregiver. Recent efforts of some in Washington to reduce and privatize social welfare programs threaten to exacerbate existing gender disparities among older Americans. They also threaten to exacerbate inequality among women by race, class, and marital status. Madonna Harrington Meyer and Pamela Herd explain these disparities and assess how proposed policy reforms would affect inequality among the aged. Market Friendly or Family Friendly? documents the cumulative disadvantages that make it so difficult for women to achieve economic and health security when they retire. Wage discrimination and occupational segregation reduce women’s lifetime earnings, depressing their savings and Social Security benefits. While more women are employed today than a generation ago, they continue to shoulder a greater share of the care burden for children, the disabled, and the elderly. Moreover, as marriage rates have declined, more working mothers are raising children single-handedly. Women face higher rates of health problems due to their lower earnings and the high demands associated with unpaid care work. There are also financial consequences to these family and work patterns. Harrington Meyer and Herd contrast the impact of market friendly programs that maximize individual choice, risk, and responsibility with family friendly programs aimed at redistributing risks and resources. They evaluate popular policies on the current agenda, considering the implications for inequality. But they also evaluate less discussed policy proposals. In particular, minimum benefits for Social Security, as well as credits for raising children, would improve economic security for all, regardless of marital status. National health insurance would also reduce inequality, as would reforms to Medicare, particularly increased coverage of long term care. Just as important are policies such as universal preschool and paid family leave aimed at reducing the disadvantages women face during their working years. The gender gaps that women experience during their work and family lives culminate in income and health disparities between men and women during retirement, but the problem has received scant attention. Market Friendly or Family Friendly? is a comprehensive introduction to this issue, and a significant contribution to the debate over the future of America’s entitlement programs.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-393-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-xii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Chapter 1 Disappearing Problems? Gender Inequality in Old Age
    (pp. 1-20)

    We have witnessed an incredible decline in poverty among older Americans in recent decades. In the 1950s, 36 percent of those sixty-five and older were poor (U.S. Census Bureau 2004). Today, only 10 percent are poor. This rate is below the 11 percent for adults between eighteen and sixty-four and well below the 18 percent for children (He et al. 2005).

    Conventional wisdom is that older people—all older people—are doing well. Variation between older women and older men, however, is pronounced. As figure 1.1 shows, older women are nearly twice as likely to be poor. Higher poverty rates,...

  6. Chapter 2 Market Friendly or Family Friendly? The Role of the State
    (pp. 21-41)

    What is the role of the state in shaping old age inequality? Welfare programs may be arranged in ways that add new sources of inequality, replicate market and social forms of inequality, or reduce inequality. Although the overall financial and health outlook for the aged is the best it has been in our nation’s history, inequality on both measures is widespread. At present, policy proposals that might reduce it and make the old age welfare state more responsive to changing social and demographic trends have been pushed off the national agenda by market-friendly proposals that aim to constrain and privatize...

  7. Chapter 3 Accumulating Inequality at Work and at Home
    (pp. 42-64)

    To understand women’s lives in old age, we must understand how their earlier experiences have shaped their present circumstances. Work and family experiences in their twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties ultimately shape women’s retirement experiences. In this chapter, we explore how women accumulate fewer resources than men across the life course. We note how trends in work and family among today’s young women will affect tomorrow’s older women. We explore inequality in paid and unpaid work, emphasizing inequality both between men and women and between different subgroups of women. We contrast the market-friendly notion that gender and race inequality in...

  8. Chapter 4 The Business of Retirement
    (pp. 65-94)

    The economic situation of older Americans has improved considerably over the past forty years. Since the late 1960s, older people have seen their standard of living rise significantly. Their income, adjusting for inflation, has doubled in thirty years. The percentage of older people living below the poverty level fell from over 30 percent in the early 1960s to just over 10 percent today (U.S. Census Bureau 1971; DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, and Lee 2005; He et al. 2005). The implementation of universal health insurance for older people through Medicare in the 1960s, and automatic cost of living increases through Social Security in...

  9. Chapter 5 The Business of Health
    (pp. 95-131)

    Good health is not randomly distributed in old age. Older women, blacks, Hispanics, and people with less income and education are less healthy than their counterparts. They also have much lower average incomes and therefore fewer resources with which to deal with poor health. Access to health insurance is also not randomly distributed. Those under sixty-five rely on private market health solutions. The results have been problematic in that 44 million Americans are uninsured (Holtz-Eakin 2004). Those over sixty-five rely on a nearly universal health insurance plan, but the coverage is incomplete, thus requiring private market supplemental coverage, and for...

  10. Chapter 6 Market-Friendly Proposals: Entrenching Inequality
    (pp. 132-155)

    We are in the midst of a major transformation of welfare states from publicly provided benefits aimed at protecting workers from the market to privately provided benefits aimed at encouraging workers to fend for themselves through the market (Gilbert 2002; Hacker 2002; Myles and Quadagno 2000). Market-friendly conservative groups want to minimize government involvement in the free market by minimizing social welfare and maximizing individual choice, risk, and responsibility. Their family-friendly opponents worry about the stratifying effects of such efforts, arguing for welfare expansions that will minimize inequality linked to gender, race, class, and marital status.

    Despite the shortcomings we...

  11. Chapter 7 Family-Friendly Proposals: Entrenching Equality
    (pp. 156-182)

    In the midst of an era marked by market-friendly proposals that would retrench and privatize old age welfare programs, we analyze a slate of family-friendly reform proposals intended to be universal, redistributive, affordable, and responsive to sociodemographic changes. The aim from a family-friendly perspective is to use the welfare state to mitigate rather than magnify old age inequality. Despite the clout wielded by market-friendly supporters such as corporate lobbyists, investment firms, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, health care providers, and conservative think tanks, most polls show that the vast majority in the United States want the government to do more, not less,...

  12. Endnotes
    (pp. 183-184)
  13. References
    (pp. 185-218)
  14. Index
    (pp. 219-238)