In family retirement decisions, husbands expect to work longer than wives

August 16, 2002

The decision to retire is increasingly becoming a family decision, but husbands maintain a stronger attachment to the work force than wives, researchers say.

"Husbands attach a much higher probability to working full time after age 62 than do wives," says co-author Dr. Amy Mehraban Pienta of the Institute on Aging and Department of Health Policy & Epidemiology at the University of Florida. "Husbands are also more likely to expect to continue working full time after age 65 than are wives.

"Both findings reinforce the idea that women maintain a somewhat weaker attachment to the labor force in later life," she adds. Using data from the 1992 Health and Retirement Study, Pienta and Dr. Mark Hayward, professor of sociology at Penn State, studied a sample of 1,818 married or cohabiting couples between the ages of 51 and 61. They recently published their results in the Journal of Gerontology.

For husbands, age and health are the main factors leading toward early retirement expectations, says Hayward, but these factors have a lesser effect on wives' early retirement expectations.

"Wives in poorer health do not differ significantly in their retirement expectations from wives in good health," the Penn State researcher says. "Health is surprisingly not associated with wives' expectations."

"Wives are more likely to expect early retirement when their husbands have a work disability," he adds. "They appear to take into account their spouse's health rather than their own when formulating retirement expectations."

Pienta adds, "Discussing retirement plans with a spouse is associated with lower expectations of working full time after age 62 for both husbands and wives, but this is particularly true for husbands. This strongly suggests that retirement decisions are the outcome of active household planning involving both the husband and the wife."

Although wives' pension wealth lags behind husbands, marriage may provide a financial safety net that adds to the importance of wives' pension wealth in household retirement decisions. Similarly age and health have a greater effect on husbands than on wives for couples who expect to delay retirement until after age 65.

More education and greater cognitive job demands increase the likelihood that husbands will delay retirement, but these factors have little effect on the expectations of wives, researchers say.

"Physical job demands, on the other hand, are positively associated with wives' expectations of working full time after age 65," says Pienta. This positive effect is contrary to assumptions of what effects "wear and tear" in a demanding physical workplace would have on women's retirement expectations, she adds.

Self-employed husbands and wives are more likely to delay retirement, they say. They suggest that being in a self-employed work environment allows husbands and wives the flexibility to adjust their work behavior in accordance to their health and work preferences.

"Among husbands, the absence of health insurance is positively associated with expectations for delayed retirement as is nonemployer health coverage," adds Hayward, also director of Penn State's Social Sciences Research Institute. "Husbands with employer provided health insurance are the least likely to delay retirement."

Health insurance coverage does not effect wives' delayed retirement expectations, they add.

Penn State

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