Retiring Together or Working Alone: The Impact of Spousal Employment and Disability on Retirement Decisions

Richard W. Johnson Melissa M. Favreault

WP#2001-1

Abstract

Husbands and wives often coordinate retirement decisions, as many married workers withdraw from the labor force at about the same time as their spouses. However, joint retirement behavior may differ for couples in which one spouse retires with health problems. In those cases, the able-bodied spouse may delay retirement to compensate for the earnings lost by the disabled spouse. This paper examines the retirement decisions of husbands and wives and how they interact with spousal health and employment, using data from the 1992-1998 waves of the Health and Retirement Study. The results indicate that both men and women are more likely to retire if their spouses have already retired than if they are still working. However, they are less likely to retire if their spouses appear to have left the labor force because of health problems, especially when spouses are not yet eligible for Social Security retirement benefits. There is no evidence that spousal caregiving demands affect retirement rates.