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Gain and Loss: Marriage and Wealth Changes Over Time


  • Julie M. Zissimopoulos



Family composition has changed dramatically over the past 25 years. Divorce rates increased and remarriage rates declined. While considerable research established a link between marriage and earnings, far less is empirically understood about the effect of marriage on wealth although wealth is an important measure for older individuals because it represents resources available for consumption in retirement. In this paper we employ eight waves of panel data from the Health and Retirement Study to study the relationship between wealth changes and marital status among individuals over age 50. This research advances understanding of the relationship by first, incorporating measures of current and lifetime earnings, mortality risk and other characteristics that vary by marital status into models of wealth change; second, measuring the magnitude of wealth loss and gain associated with divorce, widowing and remarriage and third, estimating wealth change before and after marital status change so the change in wealth change is not the result of individuals entering or leaving the household and other sources of unobserved differences are removed from estimates of the effect of marriage on wealth. Our results suggest no differences in wealth change over time among individuals that remain married, divorced, widowed, never married and partnered over 7 years. In the short-run there are substantial wealth changes associated with marital status changes. Divorce at older ages is costly, remarriage is wealth enhancing and people appear to change their savings in response to changes in marital status.

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  • Julie M. Zissimopoulos, 2009. "Gain and Loss: Marriage and Wealth Changes Over Time," Working Papers wp213, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  • Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp213

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. van Soest, Arthur & Delaney, Liam & Harmon, Colm P. & Kapteyn, Arie & Smith, James P., 2007. "Validating the Use of Vignettes for Subjective Threshold Scales," IZA Discussion Papers 2860, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Arie Kapteyn & James P. Smith & Arthur van Soest & James Banks, 2010. "Labor Market Status and Transitions during the Pre-Retirement Years: Learning from International Differences," NBER Chapters,in: Research Findings in the Economics of Aging, pages 63-92 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    4. Arie Kapteyn & James P. Smith & Arthur van Soest, 2007. "Vignettes and Self-Reports of Work Disability in the United States and the Netherlands," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(1), pages 461-473, March.
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    6. Kreider, Brent & Pepper, John V., 2007. "Disability and Employment: Reevaluating the Evidence in Light of Reporting Errors," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 102, pages 432-441, June.
    7. John Bound, 1991. "Self-Reported Versus Objective Measures of Health in Retirement Models," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 26(1), pages 106-138.
    8. Arie Kapteyn & James P. Smith & Arthur van Soest, 2005. "Self-reported Work Disability in the US and The Netherlands," Labor and Demography 0504006, EconWPA.
    9. Petri Böckerman & Pekka Ilmakunnas, 2009. "Unemployment and self-assessed health: evidence from panel data," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 18(2), pages 161-179.
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