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Marital Histories and Economic Well-Being

  • Julie Zissimopoulos

    (RAND)

  • Benjamin Karney

    (University of California Los Angeles)

  • Amy Rauer

    (Auburn University)

Compared to unmarried individuals married individuals report greater average wealth. A restricted focus on current marital status risks misrepresenting the effects of marriage on wealth, as an increasing proportion of older adults have been divorced and remarried, having lived through the dramatic upheavals in family structure from the 1960s through the 1980s. To shed light on the associations between a lifetime of marriage events and wealth near retirement, we used panel data from the Health and Retirement Study and developed categories of marital experiences that acknowledged current status, type, number and date of past marital disruptions and total duration of time spent married across the lifespan. We found that the route individuals took to get to their current marital status were important predictors of wealth levels near retirement and were different for males and females. Observable differences in lifetime earnings, mortality risk, risk aversion, other characteristics such as education and number of children, explained much of the wealth difference between married and remarried individuals however neither observable characteristics nor sources of other wealth from pensions and Social Security were enough to explain the large differences in wealth accumulation between single and married women and individuals experiencing more than one marital disruption. Given the higher divorce rate, prevalence of multiple divorces and earlier age of divorce of the Baby Boomer cohort compared to earlier cohorts, an understanding of how marriage disruptions over the lifecycle impact savings is increasingly important for understanding the economic security of retirees.

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Paper provided by University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center in its series Working Papers with number wp180.

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Length: 35 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2008
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp180
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  2. Glenn R. Hubbard & Jonathan Skinner & Stephen P. Zeldes, . "Precautionary Saving and Social Insurance," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 3-95, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
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  9. David S. Loughran & Julie Zissimopoulos, 2007. "Why Wait? The Effect of Marriage and Childbearing on the Wages of Men and Women," Working Papers 482-1, RAND Corporation Publications Department.
  10. Shelly Lundberg & Elaina Rose, 1999. "The Effect of Sons and Daughters on Men's Labor Supply and Wages," Discussion Papers in Economics at the University of Washington 0033, Department of Economics at the University of Washington.
  11. Sanders Korenman & David Neumark, 1991. "Does Marriage Really Make Men More Productive?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 26(2), pages 282-307.
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