Sliding into Poverty? Cross-National Patterns of Income Source Change and Income Decay in Old Age

James M. Williamson Timothy M. Smeeding

WP#2004-25

Abstract

This article examines the change in the mix of income and benefits that older adults receive as they age, with a focus on older women. The study is a cross-national comparison of five OECD countries using the Luxemburg Income Study database. We investigate the change of private income and social benefits following synthetic cohorts for two decades. These results reveal that older women rely heavily on socially provided benefits for a majority of their income, and these benefits are primarily responsible for whether older women find themselves in poverty or not. Older men and women in countries with relatively generous (or well targeted) social retirement and social transfer benefits have lower levels of poverty. Housing appears to be a particularly important factor. Older homeowners are less likely to be in poverty than renters. As the value of homes and homeownership increase, housing will become an especially important source of support in old age.