The Changing Nature of the Retirement Transition for Dual Earning Couples

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My dissertation examines how dual-earning couples navigate the retirement transition differently now that women's and men's work lives have become more similar. As the retirement transition has become more complex, understanding how and when people retire requires researchers and policymakers to be attuned to the family lives in which individuals are embedded. The decision to retire is an individual choice but one's family circumstances, particularly one's spouse, can influence the process. Couples must often factor in spouses' age, health, pension assets, and health insurance coverage, especially since the work lives of many women have become much more similar to men. Whereas men's retirement decisions were seen to depend on their employment situation and women's' on their husband's, women's rising attachment to the labor force means their work lives should be increasingly important in understanding the retirement transition of couples.

This dissertation fills a gap in retirement research by utilizing a life course perspective to systematically study change across cohorts in how marital partners manage the retirement transition amidst rapid structural changes in the economy. Analyses use multiple waves of data from the Health and Retirement Study, applying a variety of modeling techniques to investigate the way that couples move from employment to retirement. Specifically, I focus on retirement expectations and timing, looking at whether dual earning couples influence and synchronize each other's retirement and how this may change across cohorts.

Results suggest that coordination between couples may be declining, as both husbands and wives influence their respective partners' retirement expectations less in later cohorts. Analysis of the degree to which dual-earning couples synchronize their retirement expectations show that such couples expect to retire together when they both have the pension resources to do so. Results from event history models further indicate that the retirement trajectories have changed for the leading baby boom cohort, as evidence implies they are delaying retirement longer than previous cohorts. The findings provide mixed support for the notion that wives are influencing their husbands' retirement timing more in later cohorts or that the influence of husbands on wives' retirement timing has declined across cohorts.