The Importance Of Social Security Survivor Benefits In United States

Social Security Survivor benefits can help a family tide over the crisis created by the untimely death of its earning member, especially in case of those who do not have other insurance covers. It is an important enough benefit to be aware of. Like all social security benefits it needs to be claimed by the survivor eligible for those benefits. Thus a basic knowledge about what it means must be sought.
The Importance of Social Security Survivor Benefits in United States
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The Social Security survivor benefits are one of the most important insurance schemes created by the Social Security set up, to support the family of workers after their untimely death. It is designed to take care of the dependent family members including spouse and dependent children, and is can also be available to parents.

What are Social Security Survivor Benefits?

‘Social security survivor benefits’ are benefits in the form of financial support provided to certain surviving family members, subject to their eligibility, on account of the social security benefits of a deceased individual who was entitled to those benefits. These benefits become

available to eligible survivors, based on working history of that person.

As a first test of eligibility, the deceased must have sufficient earning credits or QUARTERS in which he/she earned the minimum prescribed amount. For receiving retirement benefits too, an individual needs to have 40 credits or quarters. In case of such a person, the family members will be eligible to receive the Social security survivor benefits. However, the family members of a person who died young can be eligible for the survivor benefits even with fewer credits. In such a case, the eligible person needs to make an application to the local Social Security Administration office with all documentation to claim these benefits.

Who is eligible for Survivor Benefits?

The main beneficiaries of social security survivor benefits are widows or widowers of the deceased, who become eligible for full retirement benefits of the deceased on attaining full retirement age. They can also claim reduced benefits as early as age 60, while a disabled widow or widower can claim the survivor benefits as early as age 50. A widow or widower can claim survivor benefits at any age, if he or she takes care of the child of the deceased, who is either less than 16 years old or disabled.

The second major category of survivor beneficiaries are unmarried children of the deceased, who are less than 18 years old, less than 19 years old if they are attending elementary or high school full time, or who became disabled prior to the age of 22 years and have remained disabled. Under certain circumstances, benefits can also be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren or adopted children.

Dependent parents, who have attained the age of 62 years can also get social security survivor benefits.

The Significance of Survivor Benefits in Numbers

Over the years the social security benefits have supported millions of survivors, including aged widows and widowers and young children, as well as old parents, as can be seen from the table below:

Number of Survivors receiving Social Security Benefits on December 31, 1970-2016

(in Millions)



Widow(er)s over 60 yrs

Widow(er)s under 60 yrs caring for a child

Disabled Widow(er)s


Old Parents











































(Source: Social Security Beneficiary Statistics, October 2017)

As per the SSA data, between six to seven million survivors have been benefitting in the United States from the survivor benefits. The largest number of beneficiaries are widows and widowers over the age of 60 years, but a very important category of the beneficiaries are children who make up 30 to 30 percent of the beneficiaries. A much smaller number of parents have also benefitted from the survivor benefits.

It is worth noting that since a spouse can claim either her own social security benefits, or that of the spouse, hence in many cases, where one’s own benefit is higher, the survivor may not claim the benefit as a survivor. In some cases, a survivor may prefer to claim one of the two benefits at a reduced value

at an earlier age, and claim the other at full benefits on achieving the required eligible age.

Loss of a primary earning member in a family can be a great setback for all survivors, but is especially troublesome for disables survivors and children. Social security survivor benefits ensure that these two classes of survivors are duly supported. The need for supporting is not just a matter of human compassion, but also an important ingredient for ensuring that they evolve into productive and capable citizens. On the other hand, caring for the disabled is one of the most important objective of the society, which gets fulfilled to a reasonable extent through this program.

In particular, the survivor benefits are a great support for a non-working spouse, who has remained married to a man eligible for social security long enough. As women tend to live longer than men, the widow or even the divorced spouse can collect the survivor benefits after the death of deceased. Thus, survivor benefits extend signficant support to the housewives too.

The statistics of survivor benefits and their analysis fully underline the importance of social security survivor benefits in US society.

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