The Women of Ellensburg: Issues of Women in Washington State
Old Age: The Greatest Change for Women
The greatest change in women's lives in the last 30 years has been that most are living into old aqe, a result of medical advances in birth techniques, disease prevention, etc. Provisions for this 64% of the population have not kept pace with their long lives, however. Thus, women over 55 years of age - and especially those over 65 - are often the poorest and usually the loneliest people in this country.
Poverty, Loneliness, and Crime
Of the 48% of American women who work, employed women between the ages 55-59 earn only an average of $3,600 per year. These wornen can rarely expect to make more because, as a woman grows older, she has less chance of being promoted. An older woman can expect, instead, that her meager income will diminish. By age 65, the average income will have dropped to $2,200 and, by 70, to $1,600.
When an older woman retires, as is arbitrarily required at 65, her retirement benefits will be lower than those of her male counterpart because she has spent her working life in positions of lower status that paid less. Because her life expectancy is greater, her monthly benefits are lower. (In fact, only 16% of women live to 75; nevertheless, the rates for the other 84% are figured at the maximum.)
During the 10 years most women live after retirement, they often feel like prisoners in their homes. Their meager incomes allow for little relief. They are almost always alone (at age 70, there are 150 women to 100 men). And, they fear crime - with good reason. While the average citizen has one chance in 146 of being a victim, the elderly woman has one chance in 24.
The woman who marries to achieve security frequently is not better off than her single sister. Three-quarters of marriages in America end in divorce and, unless the marriage has lasted 20 years, a woman gets no Social Security benefits from her husband's account. If she is widowed, the inheritance laws assume that her husband owns everything if he payed for it, and she pays taxes on property in which she has certainly invested. (In Washington, she pays inheritance on half of the community property).
The most poverty-stricken member of our society is the older minority woman. Not only is the divorce rate higher and life expectancy lower among minorities, but this woman is also the most economically disadvantaged in our society. Her poverty increases with her age.
Medical care is the largest single expense of the elderly and one of the greatest concerns. Preventive medical care and good medical treatment during menopause are particular problems, as are operations involving sexual organs. There is some evidence that doctors are less reluctant to perform radical mastadectomies and hysterectomies on a woman over 40 than when they treat younger women.
Positive Approches to Problems
Many women are taking positive approaches to the problems of aging. They are trying to upgrade the media image of the older woman, which seldom shows an attractive or sexual woman over the age of 40. They are trying to reform Social Security laws, inheritance laws, and retirement benefits. They are providing support for one another through older women's groups, educating themselves about medical care, and finding ways to continue their contributions to society after their families are grown or they themselves are in retirement. There seems to be agreement between feminists and conservative women that the problems of the older women are severe enough to require a unified effort on the part of all women.