Women’s History We Still Live With Today

national women's history alliance logo

March is women’s history month and I wanted to share a few tidbits of women’s history that are even less commonly known than most, and history that is still impacting the lives of women and mothers today.

Did you know that…

  • When the Social Security act was adopted in the late 1930’s, the Council that recommended its structure wanted to discourage women from employment so they noted that their proposal would ” take away the urge [of married women] to go back to work.” in addition they argued for lower benefits for widows since a single woman “is used to doing her own housework whereas the single man has to go out to a restaurant.”
  • When the Social Security act was amended in 1939, they proposed giving an extra benefit to men with dependent wives that was equal to 50% of the man’s benefit. The person eligible for “Primary insurance” was referred explicitly in the text as “husband,” “he,” and “him.” The terms “wife,” “she,” and “her” were used when referring to the “Wife’s Insurance Benefits.” However these benefits weren’t really hers at all because the check for the wife’s retirement benefits was written and sent to her husband and not to her.
  • It was Ruth Bader Ginsburg who argued a series of Supreme Court decisions in the late 1970s to make Social Security gender neutral at least in its language. This extra benefit is now called the spousal benefits, men are eligible for it if their wives earn more than they do, and the spousal benefit check is written to and sent to the spouse.
  • While gender neutral in language today, Social Security policy operates today as designed in the 30’s  – discouraging married women from working and  assuming that women will be financially dependent on a man for their entire lives.

Did you know that…

  • After World War II, Congress changed our income tax system from one of separate filing for married couples to one of joint filing for couples. They did this for the express purposes of reducing taxes and encouraging mothers and wives who had entered the workforce to go back home and leave the jobs for men. the legislative Council of the treasury remarked at the time “wives need not continue to master the details of… business, but may turn… to the pursuit of homemaking.”
  • This policy has never been changed and continues to have the effect of discouraging the lesser earner in a couple ( still more likely to be the woman) from working at all.

For a better understanding of how Social Security works and its impact on women and mothers, see the links in my post Social Security Debate Will Return: Educate Yourself Now.
For an short explanation of how the joint filing system was designed and how it impacts women and mothers today, see my post Tax Day Question: Can I Make Enough to Pay for Childcare?
For a brilliant in-depth analysis of the history of and impacts of the joint filing system and other tax policies on women, pick up Taxing Women by Ed McCaffery.

And for more on Women’s History Month,  check out the National Women’s History Project.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *