Housing Consumption in Late Life: The Role of Income, Health Shocks, and Marital Shocks

Douglas A. Wolf Janet M. Wilmoth

WP#2010-10

Abstract

Past research has shown that income from the Social Security program has contributed to trends towards smaller households, greater residential independence—the tendency to live alone rather than with others—and a greater prevalence of home ownership late in life. However, the mechanism through which these associations operate has remained relatively unstudied. This paper addresses the possibility that Social Security income mediates the consequences of adverse events, whether “health shocks” such as a stroke or hip fracture, or “marital shocks,” principally the death of a spouse. We measure housing consumption using the ratio of dwelling unit size (number of rooms) to number of household members—i.e., “rooms per person.” We use panel data from the Health and Retirement Survey to model current housing consumption in relation to Social Security income as well as the occurrence of health and marital shocks over the two-year period preceding each survey year (1995; 2000; 2002; 2004; and 2006)…