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Social Security, Economic Growth, and the Rise in Independence of Elderly Widows in the 20th Century

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  • Kathleen McGarry
  • Robert F. Schoeni

Abstract

The share of elderly widows living alone rose from 18 percent in 1940 to 62 percent in 1990, while the share living with adult children declined from 59 percent to 20 percent. This study analyzes the causes of this change and finds that income growth, in particular increased Social Security benefits, was the single most important factor causing the change in living arrangements accounting for nearly two-thirds of the rise in the share of elderly widows living alone. Changes in benefits from the mean-tested OAA/SSI programs had a lesser impact on the decision to live alone but were a significant factor in explaining changes in the living arrangements of the poorest widows. Furthermore, contrary to recent work, we find no evidence that the effect of income on living arrangements became stronger over the period; income had a substantial positive effect on the propensity to live alone as early as the 1940s and 1950s. Finally, the substantial changes observed in the composition of the population with respect to age, race, immigrant status, schooling, and completed fertility explain a relatively small share of the changes in living arrangements.

Suggested Citation

  • Kathleen McGarry & Robert F. Schoeni, 1998. "Social Security, Economic Growth, and the Rise in Independence of Elderly Widows in the 20th Century," NBER Working Papers 6511, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6511
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    Cited by:

    1. Eric V. Edmonds & Kristin Mammen & Douglas L. Miller, 2005. "Rearranging the Family?: Income Support and Elderly Living Arrangements in a Low-Income Country," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 40(1).
    2. David Weil, 2006. "Population Aging," Working Papers 2006-09, Brown University, Department of Economics.
    3. Eleni Karagiannaki, 2011. "Changes in the Living Arrangements of Elderly People in Greece: 1974–1999," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 30(2), pages 263-285, April.
    4. Naoko Shinkai, 2000. "¿De qué manera la seguridad social y el ingreso repercuten en los arreglos de vida de los ancianos? Elementos de juicio de las reformas de México y Uruguay," Research Department Publications 4232, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
    5. Sarmistha Pal, 2006. "Elderly Health, Wealth and Co-residence with Adult Children in Rural India," CEDI Discussion Paper Series 06-09, Centre for Economic Development and Institutions(CEDI), Brunel University.
    6. Naoko Shinkai, 2000. "How Do Social Security and Income Affect the Living Arrangements of the Elderly? Evidence from Reforms in Mexico and Uruguay," Research Department Publications 4231, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
    7. Dora L. Costa, 2008. "The Rise of Retirement Among African Americans: Wealth and Social Security Effects," NBER Working Papers 14462, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Florian Heiss & Michael Hurd & Axel Borsch-Supan, 2003. "Healthy, Wealthy, and Knowing Where to Live: Predicted Trajectories of Health, Wealth and Living Arrangements Among the Oldest Old," NBER Working Papers 9897, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Namkee Ahn, "undated". "Economic Consequences of Widowhood in Europe: Cross-country and Gender Differences," Working Papers 2004-27, FEDEA.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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