A new study released this past week details the inequalities faced by same-sex couples in employer-sponsored retirement plans. Without legal recognition of their relationships under federal law, the report concludes, lesbians and gay men have less retirement income and are disadvantaged in their ability to pass on savings to their families after their death. The study, called "The Impact of Inequality for Same-Sex Partners in Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plans," provides the first detailed demographic portrait of older same-sex couples. It was released by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law with funding support from Merrill Lynch in conjunction with National Save for Retirement Week.
"The findings show that, in particular, female same-sex couples have far less retirement income than different-sex married couples," says study author Naomi Goldberg. Key findings of the report include:
Lesbian couples over 65 have almost 20% less income than heterosexual married couples. Only 50% of lesbian couples have at least one member eligible for an employer-sponsored retirement plan. That compares to 56% of heterosexual married couples and 79% of male same-sex couples. Older same-sex couples receive less income from traditional retirement sources such as retirement, survivor, and disability pensions, than older heterosexual married couples. Men in same-sex couples earn less than their heterosexual counterparts, but appear to work for more years.
The study also analyzes the ways in which elderly lesbians and gay men are disadvantaged when their partner or spouse dies. Upon death, unlike married different-sex couples, 401k balances and remaining assets cannot be passed tax-free to the surviving same-sex spouse or partner. In particular, these studies conclude:
Even in states where same sex couples can marry, private employers can discriminate against same-sex married couples for the purpose of welfare and pension plans because of the reach of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA); thus, same-sex couples typically cannot avail themselves of pension survivor benefits. Surviving same-sex spouses or partners are unable to access social security spousal or survivor benefits. As a result, they lose out on an estimated $5,700 each year in benefits. Because same-sex surviving spouses cannot have the balance of their dead spouse's 401k transferred directly to them, they must begin making withdrawals immediately- often resulting in a higher tax rate and missing out on potential earnings and the ability to withdraw when they are really needed.
"The bulk of these inequalities are a direct result of the Defense of Marriage Act, which forces the federal government to treat same-sex couples differently than married couples when it comes to retirement savings or estate taxes after death," said Goldberg.
"Even without repealing DOMA, Congress could address these inequalities similar to the way it allowed same-sex partners to rollover the balance of their dead spouse's 401ks in 2006. While not perfect, the Pension Protection Act has at least moved same-sex couples closer to equality in the treatment of their retirement assets."
The full report is available at www.law.ucla.edu/williamsinstitute/home.html.
The Williams Institute advances sexual orientation law and public policy through rigorous, independent research and scholarship, and disseminates it to judges, legislators, policymakers, media and the public. A national think tank at UCLA Law, the Williams Institute produces high quality research with real-world relevance.size:78%;">SOURCE: Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law