MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.
Under the Social Security Act a married woman whose husband retires or becomes disabled is granted benefits if she has a minor or other dependent child in her care. A divorced
Section 202 (b) (1) of the Social Security Act, 49 Stat. 623, as added and amended, 42 U. S. C. § 402 (b) (1) (1970 ed. and Supp. V), provides for the payment of "wife's insurance benefits."
Mrs. De Castro then filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, seeking judicial review of the Secretary's decision. Her complaint alleged that § 202 (b) (1) (B) of the Social Security Act "operates to arbitrarily discriminate against divorced wives," and prayed for an order directing the Secretary to pay benefits to her, a declaration that § 202 (b) (1) (B) is unconstitutional, and an injunction against that section's application.
A three-judge court was convened pursuant to 28 U. S. C. §§ 2281, 2282. The court considered the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment and granted the relief prayed for in the complaint, holding that the wife's benefits provision "invidiously discriminates against divorced wives . . . in violation of the Fifth Amendment." De Castro v. Weinberger, 403 F.Supp. 23, 30. Central to the court's ruling was its determination that "there is no rational basis for concluding that a married wife having a dependent child in her care has a greater economic need than a divorced wife caring for such a child." Id., at 28. The Secretary appealed directly to this Court under 28 U. S. C. § 1252, and we noted probable jurisdiction, 425 U.S. 957.
The basic principle that must govern an assessment of any constitutional challenge to a law providing for governmental payments of monetary benefits is well established. Governmental decisions to spend money to improve the general public welfare in one way and not another are "not confided to the courts. The discretion belongs to Congress, unless the choice is clearly wrong, a display of arbitrary power, not an exercise of judgment." Helvering v. Davis, 301 U.S. 619, 640. In enacting legislation of this kind a government does not deny equal protection "merely because the classifications made by its laws are imperfect. If the classification has some `reasonable basis,' it does not offend the Constitution simply because the classification `is not made with mathematical nicety or because in practice it results in some inequality.' " Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 485.
To be sure, the standard by which legislation such as this must be judged "is not a toothless one," Mathews v. Lucas, 427 U.S. 495, 510. But the challenged statute is entitled to a strong presumption of constitutionality. "So long as its judgments are rational, and not invidious, the legislature's efforts to tackle the problems of the poor and the needy are not subject to a constitutional straitjacket." Jefferson v. Hackney, 406 U.S. 535, 546. It is with this principle in mind that we consider the specific constitutional issue presented by this litigation.
The old-age and disability insurance aspects of the Social Security system do not purport to be general public assistance laws that simply pay money to those who need it most. That was not the predominant purpose of these benefit provisions when they were enacted or when they were amended. Rather, the primary objective was to provide workers and
The wife's insurance benefit at issue here is consistent with this overriding legislative aim: It enables a married woman already burdened with dependent children to meet the additional need created when her husband reaches old age or becomes disabled. Accordingly, the District Court's observation that many divorced women receive inadequate
Section 202 (b) (1) (B) of the Act addresses the particular consequences for his family of a wage earner's old age or disability. Congress could rationally have decided that the resultant loss of family income, the extra expense that often attends illness and old age, and the consequent disruption in the family's economic well-being that may occur when the husband stops working justify monthly payments to a wife who together with her husband must still care for a dependent child.
Indeed, Congress took note of exactly these kinds of factors when it amended the Social Security Act in 1958. Between 1950 and 1958 wives under retirement age with dependent children received benefits only when their husbands became entitled to old-age insurance payments. Social Security Act Amendments of 1950, § 101 (a), 64 Stat. 482. Congress then amended the Act to provide the same benefits when the wage earner becomes disabled.
In view of the legislative purpose, it is hardly surprising that the congressional judgment evidently was a different one with respect to divorced women. Divorce by its nature works a drastic change in the economic and personal relationship between a husband and wife. Ordinarily it means that they will go their separate ways. Congress could have rationally assumed that divorced husbands and wives depend less on each other for financial and other support than do couples who stay married. The problems that a divorced wife may encounter when her former husband becomes old or disabled may well differ in kind and degree from those that a woman married to a retired or disabled husband must face. For instance, a divorced wife need not forgo work in order to stay at home to care for her disabled husband. She may not feel the pinch of the extra expenses accompanying her former husband's old age or disability.
This is not to say that a husband's old age or disability may never affect his divorced wife. Many women receive alimony or child support after divorce that their former husbands might not be able to pay when they stop work. But even for this group—which does not include the appellee in the present case—Congress was not constitutionally obligated to use the Social Security Act to subsidize support payments. It could rationally decide that the problems created for divorced women remained less pressing than those faced by women who continue to live with their husbands.
In any event, the constitutional question "is not whether a statutory provision precisely filters out those, and only those, who are in the factual position which generated the congressional concern reflected in the statute." Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749, 777. We conclude, accordingly, that the statutory classifications involved in this case are not of such an order as to infringe upon the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
The judgment is reversed.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL concurs in the judgment.
"(b) Wife's insurance benefits.
"(1) The wife (as defined in section 416 (b) of this title) and every divorced wife (as defined in section 416 (d) of this title) of an individual entitled to old-age or disability insurance benefits, if such wife or such divorced wife—
"(A) has filed application for wife's insurance benefits,
"(B) has attained age 62 or (in the case of a wife) has in her care (individually or jointly with such individual) at the time of filing such application a child entitled to a child's insurance benefit on the basis of the wages and self-employment income of such individual,
"(C) in the case of a divorced wife, is not married, and
"(D) is not entitled to old-age or disability insurance benefits, or is entitled to old-age or disability insurance benefits based on a primary insurance amount which is less than one-half of the primary insurance amount of such individual,
"shall (subject to subsection (s) of this section) be entitled to a wife's insurance benefit for each month, beginning with the first month in which she becomes so entitled to such insurance benefits and ending with the month preceding the first month in which any of the following occurs—
"(E) she dies,
"(F) such individual dies,
"(G) in the case of a wife, they are divorced and either (i) she has not attained age 62, or (ii) she has attained age 62 but has not been married to such individual for a period of 20 years immediately before the date the divorce became effective,
"(H) in the case of a divorced wife, she marries a person other than such individual,
"(I) in the case of a wife who has not attained age 62, no child of such individual is entitled to a child's insurance benefit,
"(J) she becomes entitled to an old-age or disability insurance benefit based on a primary insurance amount which is equal to or exceeds one-half of the primary insurance amount of such individual, or
"(K) such individual is not entitled to disability insurance benefits and is not entitled to old-age insurance benefits."
In 1950 the Act was amended to provide for grants-in-aid to the States so that assistance could be furnished "to needy individuals eighteen years of age or older who are permanently and totally disabled." Social Security Act Amendments of 1950, § 351, 64 Stat. 555. In 1956 Congress created a program for disability insurance benefits. Social Security Amendments of 1956, § 103 (a), 70 Stat. 815. Again, the insurance program, unlike the public assistance provisions, was not need based, but instead was designed to protect against the specific economic hardships created by involuntary, premature retirement. See H. R. Rep. No. 1300, 81st Cong., 1st Sess., 27-28, 53-54 (1949); Recommendations for Social Security Legislation, Reports of the Advisory Council on Social Security, S. Doc. No. 208, 80th Cong., 2d Sess., 69-70, 95-97 (1949); S. Rep. No. 2133, 84th Cong., 2d Sess., 3-4 (1956); H. R. Rep. No. 1189, 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 3-6 (1955).