The Impact of Marital Status on the Economic Well-Being of Women in Later Life

TitleThe Impact of Marital Status on the Economic Well-Being of Women in Later Life
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsJoyce, JAnn
Academic DepartmentSociology
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy
Date Published2005
UniversityState University of New York - Buffalo
CityBuffalo, NY
KeywordsAdult children, Demographics, Income, Net Worth and Assets, Women and Minorities

Although there have been significant improvements in the economic status of the elderly in the United States because of the Social Security retirement program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, poverty among older women remains high. The economic vulnerability of women in older age has been directly linked to their greater likelihood of being unmarried, with marriage viewed as generally protecting the elderly from poverty. The economic status of older women also has been linked to their employment histories, in that women tend to have discontinuous work histories and often work at jobs that pay lower salaries than men. Moreover, their employment is often tied to marriage and childrearing. These factors mean many women will receive lower income in older age. Hence, a lifetime of weak attachment to the labor force leaves many women ill-prepared for economic security without a spouse. Other characteristics of women may further impact their income security in older age. Minority women, for example, are at an even greater disadvantage than white women; and women with high educational attainment may have strong work histories resulting in more favorable outcomes for income in later life. Within the context of a combination of viewpoints that include the life course, political economy, and feminist perspectives, this dissertation examines the relationship of gender, race, employment histories, number of children, and marital status on the economic security of women in later life. Economic security is measured by total household income and total wealth, or accumulated assets minus debt. A sample of women age 50 and over who are married, divorced, widowed, or have never been married are included in the study. Data are from the Rand Data File of the Health and Retirement Study. The Rand HRS Data File is a longitudinal data set based on the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) data. The HRS is a national panel study sponsored by the National Institute of Aging and conducted by the University of Michigan. From the data analysis, it was found that married women, overall, have greater income and wealth and, therefore, the largest number of sources of income compared to women in the other marital status groups. This was due largely to their access to their spouse's income and assets. The widowed women were shown to have the least amount of wage and salary income, but received the most from Social Security retirement. The widows in the study, however, had the least amount of total household income. Those women who had never been married had the strongest employment histories among the women in the four marital status groups, but they had less income and wealth than the married women in the sample. The race and ethnicity of the women were shown to have negative consequences for their economic security, with nonwhite women having fewer sources of income than their white counterparts. Education had a significant positive effect on the incomes and wealth of the women across all the marital status groups, while number of children had no effect on either the income or assets of women in this analysis.

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Citation Key6366