Spouses and Social Security


1 stay-at-home spouse
1 working spouse
both exactly the same age

working spouse makes well over the social security wage base from age 30-65, so s-a-h spouse doesn’t need to work

stay at home spouse was in school from age 18-30 (finishing multiple degrees, possibly a useless PhD here or there) so no work history

at age 65, working spouse starts drawing social security. at age 67, working spouse dies.

questions for the panel:

  1. does s-a-h spouse collect off of working spouse’s SS? is that amount 100% of spouse’s SS check? how long does that last for?

  2. does this depend if they have other assets that s-a-h spouse can live off of?

  3. does the answer change if, instead of being in school from 18-30, s-a-h spouse worked minimum wage jobs for that time period

3a) does the answer depend on the time at which they got married? (so if s-a-h married working spouse when they were 64 (and for some reason s-a-h wasn’t employed from 18-64) is it different than if they got married at 18? 30?)

if you need more data, feel free to cook it up. this has no bearing to any real-life situation, just interested in how SS interacts with non-working spouses seeing as SS is presumably an “individual” plan

Survivor’s Benefits from the Social Security website.

Not precisely on point but close: the Railroad Retirement program paralleled Social Security (why it was a separate program, I’m not sure). My aunt and her cousin, a RR retiree, married late in life, and to be vested as his widow/surviving spouse, she had to have been married to him in excess of eleven full months (they had been married for a year and a day on his death).

ETA: “Eligibility” is by the number of quarters the working spouse worked. The non-working spouse cannot draw in his/her own right, owing to not having him/herself worked, but is eligible for survivor’s benefits.

Adding one final point: I’m aware of a family where the man died at a young age, leaving children under 18. The mother, herself not eligible for SS as yet, receives benefit payments for the care and support of the decedent’s children, he having had the requisite number of quarters of work in at the time of his death.

Any sense on what percentage the survivor benefit is?

edit: I see the calculator, but I don’t want to make up the data - a back-of-the-envelope guesstimate would satiate my curiosity

I’m not expert enough to answer your questions in full detail. However, SS does provide a survivor benefit to a non-working spouse. It says so right on the Social Security Benefit Statement you should be receiving every year. In my own case, it shows that if I were to die, when my wife reaches retirement age she would be eligible to receive a certain payment per month based solely on my wage history. This payment is about 90% of my own full SS payment.

Of course, she’s also eligible based on her own work history, so there is a maximum payment based on the combination of the factors.

90% correct. She can collect on her own PIA (primary insured amount) or on the deceased spouse’s PIA, but cannot combine them in any way. Social Security will pay her the greater amount. As to the OP, the surviving spouse, not having worked, can receive benefits on her deceased spouse’s PIA once she attains the age of 60 (age 50 if she is “disabled” as that term is decided by the SSA). 20 CFR 404.335 provides that the marriage must have lasted at least 9 months immediately before the insured died, or if he/she died sooner, the insured was reasonably expected to live for 9 months, and the insured did not commit suicide. If the parties were previously married for 9 months, the above limitation does not apply.

The purpose of the 9-month limitation is to prevent persons from getting married when the insured knows he’s dying and wants his ladyfriend to collect (“manfriend” if appropriate).

Those benefits continue until the widow remarries, unless she remarries after attaining age 60, unless she is “disabled” and remarried after attaining age 50. In order to receive benefits on the insured’s PIA as a “disabled” widow, the disability must have started not later than 7 years after the insured died.


That’s provided under other provisions of the Act and Regulations (404.339.) The child must be in the care of the parent who is entitlted to child’s benefits (see 404.350, which provides, in brief, that the child must be unmarried, or become “disabled” before the age of 22, or if over 18, be otherwise qualified as a "full-time"student as described in 404.367, which limits it to elementary or secondary schools. However, although the child is entitled to benefits until age 18, mother’s benefits end when the child attains age 16.
20 CFR 404.338 provides that the widow or widow’s monthly benefits is equal to the insured’s PIA.

The above can be considered just a “thumb-nail” synopses. The regulations have to be read in full for more details…or you can ask. :slight_smile: