But that calculation doesn't address what happens if your wife outlives you. And there's a good chance that will happen. According to the American Academy of Actuaries, the average 62-year-old man will live an additional 21.9 years, while the average 62-year-old woman will live 25.5 more years.
Some women are the primary breadwinners, of course, but in the majority of couples, husbands retire with higher lifetime earnings than their wives. Women are more likely to leave the workplace to care for children or elderly parents. Median wages for women continue to lag behind wages for men. Women are also more likely than men to become widowed — and not only because they typically live longer. Most married women are younger than their husbands.
"Most older women have major reductions in their standard of living when their husbands die," says Steven Sass, associate director for research at the center.
When their husbands claimed benefits at their full retirement age or later, the widows' average benefits were 19% above the federal poverty level. But when their husbands claimed benefits before they reached full retirement age, the average benefits for widows were 1% below the poverty line.
Break-even calculators encourage retirees to regard the timing of their benefits as a gamble, which is a "terrible way to think," Sass says. Instead, retirees should view Social Security as an insurance policy. By delaying benefits, Sass says, husbands can reduce the risk that their widows will spend their final years in poverty.
While married men should delay claiming Social Security benefits, married women might receive higher lifetime benefits by filing for Social Security at 62, Gebhardtsbauer says, because these women don't get locked into a reduced benefit. If they outlive their husbands, they can "trade up" to their husbands' higher Social Security payout, he says. (If the wife dies first, the lower benefit will die with her.)
But to get the most from their combined benefits, husbands should wait to file. "When you make your retirement plans, you've got to consider how you're going to have a good stable income for you and your spouse for the rest of your lives," Sass says. For married men, he says, delaying Social Security "is by far the best thing you can do."