MPIDR Working Paper

Inequalities in retirement lifespan in the United States

Shi, J., Dudel, C., Monden, C., van Raalte, A. A.
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2022-015, 29 pages.
Rostock, Max-Planck-Institut für demografische Forschung (April 2022)
Open Access


Objectives  Persistent and substantial disparities in old-age mortality suggest that there may be great inequalities in the length of retirement life. This study aims to assess gender and educational differences in the average retirement lifespan and the variation in retirement lifespan, taking into account individual labor-force exit and re-entry dynamics. 

Methods  We used longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study in 1996–2016, focusing on respondents aged 50 and above (N = 32,228). Multistate life tables were estimated using discrete-time event history models. The average retirement lifespan, as well as absolute and relative inequalities in retirement lifespan, were calculated analytically. 

Results  We found that among women there was a persistent educational gradient in average retirement lifespan over the whole period studied; among men, the relationship between education and retirement expectancy was different across periods. Women and the lower-educated had higher absolute inequality in retirement lifespan than men and the higher-educated—yet these relationships were reversed when examined by relative inequality. 

Discussion  Our multistate approach provides an accurate and comprehensive picture of the retirement lifespan of older Americans in the past two decades. Such findings should be considered in high-level discussions on Social Security. Potential reforms such as raising the eligibility age or cutting benefits may have unexpected implications for different social groups due to their differential impacts on retirement initiation and re-entry dynamics.  

Schlagwörter: Vereinigte Staaten, age at retirement, inequality, life expectancy, mortality, multi-state life tables, retirement
Das Max-Planck-Institut für demografische Forschung (MPIDR) in Rostock ist eines der international führenden Zentren für Bevölkerungswissenschaft. Es gehört zur Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, einer der weltweit renommiertesten Forschungsgemeinschaften.