Characteristics of People Who Were Approved (and Denied) Disability Benefits

Social security benefit claim form with a denied stamp

Approved and denied applicants for Social Security disability benefits have certain health, work, and socioeconomic characteristics that differ from those of the general population. These groups have been the focus of several studies. Here is more on their characteristics.

Education Attainment

One in five people who have been approved or denied benefits have not completed high school. This is relatively higher than the general population’s figure (1 in 9).


One in five approved applicants is black, which is somewhat lower than the figure for denied applicants (1 in 4).

Region of Residence

Both approved and denied applicants are more likely to live in the South compared to the general population. About 47% of denied applicants and 41% of Social Security beneficiaries live in the South. Only 36% of the general population resides in the South.

Marital Status

Both approved and disapproved groups of applicants are older, on average, and less likely to be married than the general population. An estimated 54% of the general population is married. On the other hand, only 37% of denied applicants and 42% of those who have received Social Security disability benefits are married.

Economic Wellbeing

The group of applicants that has been denied benefits is notable for having high poverty and material hardship levels (38% and 43%, respectively). Social Security beneficiaries have a lower poverty rate of 25.3% and a somewhat lower material hardship rate of 38% than the denied group.

These findings show how Social Security disability benefits are a crucial social safety net, having potentially significant anti-poverty effects.


Applicants who have been denied benefits have a fair or poor health rate of about 50%. Social Security beneficiaries have an estimated 62.5% fair or poor health rate. The general population has a rate of about 7%. These findings suggest that the people who apply for Social Security disability benefits but are denied may have somewhat better health circumstances than the applicants who have had their claims approved.

Nonetheless, both the denied and approved populations experience considerable health challenges. The rate of health care utilization for both groups is significantly higher than that of the general population. The denied group, however, has higher poverty rates and limited earnings. For those reasons, social security lawyers near applicants help those who have been denied benefits with the appeals process.


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