This paper estimates the effect of early receipt of Social Security retirement benefits on
poverty among older women using data from the RAND version of the Health and Retirement
Study (HRS). Women are particularly vulnerable to poverty in old age due to their longer
projected lifespans and often shorter earnings histories and lower retirement benefits compared
to men. Women are also more likely than men to provide informal care to aging family members,
and widows and divorcees may face additional disadvantages. Building on cumulative
disadvantage theory, this paper focuses on older women and considers the interactions of health,
caregiving responsibilities, and early Social Security receipt decisions on subsequent incomes
relative to poverty 12 to 24 years after entering the HRS survey. I find that older women who
received Social Security retirement benefits before reaching their full retirement age have lower
household income relative to poverty in the last five of the seven survey years examined.
Although there is no significant relationship for the full sample in the first two outcome years
examined, I find that older women in certain disadvantaged groups who received benefits early
have lower household income relative to poverty.