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(2007)Early claiming of Social Security benefits by married men “is a major social problem” that significantly contributes to widow poverty, according to research compiled by the Center of Retirement Research at Boston College.

“Most married men claim Social Security benefits at age 62 or 63, well short of both Social Security’s Full Retirement Age and the age that maximizes the household’s expected present value of benefits,” the report says.

This trend means a 3-4% loss in expected household benefits, but an average loss of “nearly 20 percent” for surviving widows, due to differences in income and life expectancy between men and women.

One study found that the average Social Security benefit of widows aged 90 and above, whose husbands claimed benefits at or after full retirement age, was 19% above the federal poverty line. “Widows whose husbands had claimed sooner, by contrast, had average benefits 1 percent below the poverty line,” the report says.

To get the highest Social Security benefits for the household, and reduce the possibility of widow poverty, the report advises married men to claim benefits at full retirement age or thereafter.

The full report, “Why Do Married Men Claim Social Security Benefits so Early? Ignorance or Caddishness?” © 2007 is available online at www.bc.edu/centers/crr/publications.html.

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