Exploring the Social Security Benefit Implications of Same-Sex Marriage


Pollard, Michael & Lopez-Garcia, Italo (2019). Exploring the Social Security Benefit Implications of Same-Sex Marriage. Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. New York, NY.


Same-sex marriage became legal nationwide in the United States on June 26, 2015. Federal legalization of same sex marriage expands the pool of individuals potentially eligible for spousal benefits from Social Security to the estimated 4% of the population that is lesbian, gay, or bisexual. This paper is a foundational step to better understand the potential impact of the expansion of marriage rights to same-sex couples on Social Security. We primarily use data from the 2011-2015 American Community Survey to describe the economic circumstances of heterosexual and same-sex households. We estimate the anticipated social security benefit amounts for these individuals, as well as eligibility to claim spousal benefits. We estimate the size of the gay and lesbian populations by age and sex from 2017-2040 using standard demographic methods. Finally, we supplement the analyses with new data from the RAND American Life Panel. Results indicate that same-sex couples tend to have higher household earnings than heterosexual couples, especially same-sex male couples. Same-sex married couples are less likely than heterosexual couples to qualify for spousal SS benefit payments, but given that they are eligible, same-sex married male couples could generally claim higher spousal benefit amounts than heterosexual couples (about $8,400/ year), while same-sex married female couples could claim similar amounts as heterosexual couples in spousal SS benefits (about $7,200/ year). We estimate 308,000-524,000 gay males age 66+, and 250,000-503,000 lesbian women in 2017 – and 465,000-868,000 and 364,000 – 825,000, in 2040 (respectively). Up to half of these populations intend to marry.

Reference Type

Conference proceeding

Book Title

Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association


Pollard, Michael
Lopez-Garcia, Italo

Year Published


City of Publication

New York, NY

Reference ID