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The December 2015 Uniform Assessment Instrument of Virginia's Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (an instruction manual for administration of certain public social services) contains the following astonishing assertion about Social Security Numbers (SSNs) in the USA (emphasis mine):

13.12.1 Name and vital information

Record the full name of the individual....

The SSN is a nine-digit number, which will be used to track information on all individuals who are assessed. It is important that every person have a unique number. Most individuals should have a SSN, but you will find that some female individual’s [sic] use their Medicare number as their SSN and/or their husband's SSN as their own....

On occasion, the assessor will need to generate a dummy social security number for an individual. This will happen when a female individual only has her husband's number and he is still alive, or when there is no number to be found. In the cases where the wife is using the husband's SSN, generate a dummy number for the wife in the following way....

I can believe that there was a time in US history when men were more likely to have Social Security numbers than women because they were the ones more likely to be going out and doing things that required an SSN, but SSN's were created in 1936 and it has long been nearly impossible to function in the US without a number and it is difficult to believe that a practice of women just using their husbands' numbers was common as late as 2015. It's in fact difficult to believe this was ever common - presumably, if a woman in the late 1930's needed to do something that required an SSN (e.g. get a Federal job), she would just go and get one herself rather than just putting her husband's number down.

Reading this document was the first time I've ever heard of this practice. Even after working several years in healthcare administration (where we tracked SSN's for everyone), I have to admit that this was never a thing I encountered or even heard of ever happening. None of our training covered this scenario - it was assumed that anyone using a SSN other than their own was per se committing fraud and deserved to be punished by catapult or at the very minimum reported for investigation.

When my niece was born, my brother applied for an SSN for her that very month. The idea that they could simply wait 18 years to see if she could just get by with a future husband's number wasn't on the table at all.

Is it common today in the USA for women to use their husband's SSN as their own, or was this ever a common practice?

One possibility that I thought of was that this is an accommodation for women who are present in the USA unlawfully (not eligible for an SSN) but lawfully married to someone with an SSN, but that doesn't seem satisfactory because their is no similar accommodation for men who are in the US unlawfully but using their "legal" spouse's SSN. I also note that if this were the case, I would have expected the document to just come out and say it, e.g. "If the patient is not eligible for a SSN for reasons, generate a dummy number in the following manner....".

Another possibility that I considered was that this is related to Social Security survivorship benefits, i.e. where a woman is receiving benefits under her husband's Social Security account (e.g. as a widow). That doesn't make sense either - the systems I've used have always been smart enough to handle that. If a patient was in that kind of scenario, we would put their actual SSN on their biography tab and the funding source's SSN on the insurance tab (e.g. "This is Mary Smith, SSN 123-45-6789, she is receiving benefits under her husband William Smith's SS account, SSN 987-65-4321").

If this was never actually a thing that people actually did, but there is some state or Federal regulation that requires agencies to theoretically permit this (e.g. "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a woman lawfully married to a Social Security Number holder may lawfully use such number for all purposes as if it were her own and no agency may require her to apply for her own number as a condition of receiving any services whatsoever as may otherwise be authorized under law...."), that's an answer.

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    Note that the quote source does not assert that this is a common practice. At best we can infer from the quote that it is common enough to instruct administrators on how to handle such a case if they encounter it.
    – mmeent
    Jul 16 at 12:46
  • @mmeent though the phraseology "you will find that some..." does imply that it is common enough that most staff will encounter cases. Certainly the inclusion of this case over other hypothetical SSN irregularities indicates that the State of Virginia considers this scenario to be notable. Jul 16 at 12:53
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    Note that this is an agency that deals with elderly people, some from rural Appalachia, and its manual contains instructions that may have not been updated for many years. I wouldn't be surprised that a woman born on a farm in the 1920's or 1930's and never held a job outside the home or farm would seldom have need of a SSN, and might've used their husbands' on the rare occasions when they would. The advice in the manual is surely becoming obsolete, but bureaucratic guidelines are slow to change.
    – antlersoft
    Jul 16 at 13:42
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    People now get SS numbers as infants because it is needed to claim them as dependents on a parent’s income tax return. From IRS site "Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) - You must provide the TIN (usually the social security number) of each qualifying individual." irs.gov/taxtopics/tc602 Jul 16 at 22:35
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    I was born in 1949. I got my SSN in 1964 when I was 15, but that was unusual -- I was working as a volunteer in downtown Louisville just a few doors from the office where you could register, so I did that when I had a few spare minutes. My older brother didn't get his SSN until he graduated from college. Jul 17 at 17:58
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Until the IRS rule requiring SS to claim dependents, the usual time to get a SS # was when you applied to your first job. A person who never applied for a job might not ever have applied.

In the early '80s I filed jointly with a wife who had her own SS#. In correspondence with the IRS the pair of us were referred to collectively as my SS, our name was concatenated with her name.

Under these circumstances a wife using her husband's SS# would not be uncommon.

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    I think in practice the husbands SS# was not so much used as a wife's SS#, but as a stand-in as a family identifier. Jul 28 at 22:11

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