Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) is a program for disabled workers. To be eligible for SSDI, an individual must have an extensive and recent work history. The 20/40 rule requires that an individual meet the earnings minimum for 20 out of the most recent 40 quarters. See This recent work history requirement of the 20/40 rule often prevents stay-at home mothers from qualifying for SSDI benefits. Below is a prime example of the Social Security Disability gender gap and the difficulty women face when accessing SSDI benefits.

The Social Security Disability Gender Gap

Ms. Claire Collier, a married, stay-at-home mother, worked from 1979-1994, a fifteen year period. During this time, she paid over $40,000 in FICA taxes to Social Security and Medicare, yet she was not entitled to benefits from the SSDI program. In 1994, Ms. Collier left the workforce to give birth to her first child. Ms. Collier gave birth to two more children after her first, and she remained outside the workforce for a period of nine years before becoming disabled. Ms. Collier developed ALS in the fall of 2003. Her family spent more than $500,000 on her medical expenses, and she was in desperate need of medical assistance._ Ms. Collier needed to qualify for SSDI as a prerequisite for Medicare coverage.

Like many stay-at-home mothers, Ms. Collier fell through the cracks because she was not “needy” enough to qualify for SSI, yet simultaneously she had not earned enough income in recent years to qualify for SSDI. Despite Ms. Collier’s extensive work history, she did not satisfy the 20/40 rule because she didn’t have enough recent quarters of earnings to qualify for SSDI.

The issues with equal pay for equal work and the societal pressure for women to raise their children, cause many women to remain outside the workforce for at least some portion of their adult lives. So, Ms. Collier challenged the constitutionality of the 20/40 rule’s discriminatory effect on women, but she was unsuccessful. In 2009 Ms. Collier died without ever receiving SSDI benefits.

To date no changes have been made to improve Social Security’s gender gap, but the Senate Finance Committee met on December 9, 2014 to review the system’s impact on women.