Women's Retirement Insecurity Across U.S. Birth Cohorts
Older women in the U.S. face greater risks of economic insecurity in comparison with other age groups and with men their own age. Although these risks have been documented in prior research, few studies investigate the life course mechanisms underlying women's retirement insecurity. This dissertation seeks to fill this gap by using a life course perspective and the theory of cumulative disadvantage to examine how women's earlier work and family experiences shape subsequent economic resources in retirement. The three major types of retirement resources in the U.S. - Social Security benefits, occupational pensions, and private retirement wealth - are considered. Analyses use a variety of modeling techniques and panel data from the Health and Retirement Study linked to restricted access Social Security Administration files. In addition, this dissertation specifically investigates retirement insecurity across birth cohorts of older women.
The first substantive chapter examines how Social Security benefit eligibility type is influenced by four major life course predictors: marital continuity, family timing, employment commitment, and cohort change. Social Security benefit type is an important indicator of retirement security for women because, despite nearly universal program coverage, benefit type is associated with differential economic security in retirement for women. Multinomial logit models demonstrate the importance of women's own paid employment histories for later benefit type. Receiving own worker Social Security benefits or being dually eligible for Social Security are more likely outcomes with increased employment experience. The second empirical chapter uses discrete-time even history models to examine the timing of women's access to occupation pension income. The timing of pension income receipt is relevant for women's retirement security because delayed access indicates a missing source of economic resources. Results reveal significant cohort differences in the timing of first pension receipt as well as the important roles of marital continuity and family timing for older women's access to occupational pension income. The final empirical chapter employs age-based growth models to examine differential trajectories of private retirement savings in early retirement (ages 51-65) across U.S. birth cohorts of women. This analysis examines both initial retirement wealth and wealth accumulation over time to understand how life course processes advantage some older women, but contribute to ongoing disadvantage for others as part of this third, major source of retirement security. Results from growth models reveal variation across birth cohorts as well as the negative effects of divorce for initial wealth holdings and growth in retirement wealth. Overall, this dissertation illustrates the importance of women's work and family experiences across the life course for the cumulative disadvantages they face in retirement. Moreover, each type of major retirement resource interacts with different aspects of women's prior work and family roles to produce economic outcomes in retirement.
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