Men Do Not “Dominate the Disability Rolls"

January 25, 2017

As Dean Baker notes, the NYT has a story up today on the drop in women’s labor force participation rates since 2000. It’s a useful piece, but incorrectly notes that “men dominate the disability rolls.” In fact, 49 percent of people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance as worker beneficiaries are women, and women are 47 percent of adults with disabilities receiving Supplemental Security Income. Finally, while Temporary Assistance isn’t a disability program per se, substantial numbers of parents receiving Temporary Assistance have a disability, and nearly all of them are mothers.

Part of the confusion here may be due to the fact that men who are out of the labor force are more likely than women to give an illness or disability as the reason. But many more women are out of the labor force, and as the table below shows, the absolute number of women reporting not working due to a disability (3.6 million) is slightly larger than the number of men (3.5 million). 

Finally, it’s important to note that disability benefits have not been an important factor contributing to declines in men’s or women’s labor force participation. As Dean notes, the real problems here are on the demand side of the labor market, as well as weak labor market institutions and the absence of work-family supports like quality, affordable child care and paid family leave.

Prime-Age Adults Who Did Not Work in 2015 by Reason and Sex
Percentage Women
Ill or disabled 3,526,717 53% 3,567,269 23%
Taking care of home/family 814,162 12% 9,232,809 60%
Going to school 1,121,192 17% 1,318,703 9%
Retired 659,918 10% 769,744 5%
Other 584,916 9% 397,325 3%
Total 6,706,905 100% 15,285,850 100%

Source: IPUMS CPS ASEC (2016).

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