Does Gender Play a Role in Approval for Disability Benefits?

The Social Security Administration (SSA), like every other government agency, adheres to a strict non-discrimination policy. Hence, gender does not play a role in the official review and approval process for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits.

Disability claims are reviewed based on medical documentation present in the application. While personal information, like age, sex and marital status are essential pieces of data required for application for SSD benefits, these factors are not a part of the determination of eligibility to receive benefits. Rather, eligibility is based on whether the extent of physical, mental and emotional impairment the applicant suffers warrants disability benefits under the SSA’s eligibility guidelines.

Additionally, work credits are a big part of eligibility for Social Security, including retirement and disability benefits. In order to be the primary beneficiary in either of these categories, an individual must have earned wages and contributed to the Social Security Disability funds over the course of their employment.

When reviewing aggregate data or statistics for disability beneficiaries, it may appear to the untrained eye that gender does play a part in approval of disability benefits. After all, the most current figures published (2010 totals) show that men receive disability and retirement benefits more often than do women and that women are more likely to receive survivor benefits than men.

The 2010 data for all Social Security benefits breaks down as follows. Figures are based on percentages of total beneficiaries by sex.

Adult Male Beneficiaries

Receiving Disability Benefits - 20%

Receiving Retirement Benefits - 80%

Total Percentage of Adult Males Receiving Benefits - 44%

Adult Female Beneficiaries

Receiving Disability Benefits - 14%

Receiving Retirement Benefits - 61%

Receiving Survivor Benefits as Widows and Mothers of Workers Deceased Before the Age of Retirement or the Approval of Disability Benefits - 16%

Receiving Survivor Benefits as Spouses of Retired or Disabled Workers - 9%

Total Percentage of Adult Females Receiving Benefits - 56%

While gender does not play a part in the approval for disability benefits, it is a factor in societal norms. After all, in decades past, women were significantly less likely to work outside of the home as wage earners. This means they were less likely to contribute to the disability funds, making them more often ineligible to receive benefits as the primary beneficiary for Social Security Insurance and SSD benefits. Instead, they usually received survivor benefits when their spouse or child died.

Societal norms also drive the figures associated with male beneficiaries, as men are less likely to stop working when partially disabled, and less likely to file for disability or survivor benefits in general. Men also made up the primary group within the workforce for many decades, which is why 80 percent of males receiving Social Security benefits are retired workers.

If you only review the data on adult male and female beneficiaries receiving Social Security benefits in particular categories, it may at first appear there is a significant difference between the sexes. However, when you look at total beneficiaries by sex, the difference between males and females is much smaller, with males making up 56% and females accounting for 44% of the total beneficiaries receiving Social Security.

The percentages of male and female disabled workers approved for disability benefits by the SSA also shows there is no significant difference between the sexes, with men receiving SSD benefits at 20% and women at 14%. The distinction again is due to societal norms. More men were wage earners prior to becoming disabled. Fewer women were among the workforce prior to becoming disabled. Disability benefits are based on previous earnings as a worker who contributed to the SSD fund prior to disability. In essence, a higher percentage of men contributed to the fund and therefore qualify for SSD benefits.