Social Security’s 78th Anniversary: Then and Now

To help celebrate Social Security’s 78th anniversary, here is a comparison of how the country – and Social Security – have changed since 1940, when Ida May Fuller received Social Security’s first monthly benefit.

Since 1940, the number of Americans age 65 and over has quadrupled, more than doubling as a percentage of the population.

65 and Over Population growth chartSources: and


The number of individuals receiving a Social Security benefit, since benefit checks were first issued in 1940, has increased over 250 times.

Number of People Receiving Social Security Benefits chartSource:


 Not only has the number of people receiving benefits increased, but the amount of the average monthly retirement benefit has too (thanks to wage growth).  However, benefits are still modest.

Average Monthly Retirement Benefit chartSources: and


The increase in women’s labor force participation means that more women than ever are receiving retirement benefits based on their own earnings.

Percentage of Retirement Beneficiaries that are Women chartSource:


Social Security has helped older Americans live their retirement out of poverty (note: the poverty statistic is for 1959 – the oldest Census data that was available).

Poverty Rate for Older Americans (65+) chartSource: Table 3 here:

Mikki D. Waid, Ph.D. - AARP Public Policy InstituteMikki D. Waid, Ph.D., is a senior strategic policy adviser on the Economic Security Team in the AARP Public Policy Institute. She is responsible for research and analysis of policy issues relating to Social Security and retirement security.


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