The precarious financial situation of many elderly women in developed countries is well established. Nevertheless, in-depth insight into the persistent vulnerability of this group remains largely absent. In this article, we demonstrate how a specific focus on the interaction between work history, family history and pension regulations can provide greater insight into the mechanisms that produce poverty among elderly women in Belgium. To that end, we make use of register data on some 9,000 women aged 65–71. Data on the poverty risk of these women is linked to career and family data, spanning over 45 years. We find that pension policy can indeed account for the higher poverty risk of some groups of elderly women (e.g. divorcees) as compared to others (e.g. widows). Similarly, pension policy can, to a large extent, directly or indirectly explain how previous lifecourse events, such as marital dissolution or childbirth, affect old-age poverty risk. However, our study also reveals some unexpected findings. Most notably, pension regulations fail to account for the beneficial situation of married women. Indeed, our analyses suggest that capital (income) may prove more decisive than pension rights in explaining the low poverty risk of married women when compared to other marital groups. Drawing from our findings, we conclude with some suggestions as to where pension policy should go from here.