Exploring the Consequences of Discrimination and Health for Retirement by Race and Ethnicity: Results from the Health and Retirement Study

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This paper examines the association of structural discriminatory risk factors and health with retirement age.  It uses data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS).  Critical components of the analysis include ordinary least squares regressions to evaluate associations of discrimination (major lifetime discrimination, neighborhood disadvantage, work discrimination and everyday discrimination) and health with retirement age, while controlling for time, cohort, race, ethnicity, gender, marital status, education, health insurance, income and wealth.  Interaction effects explore differences by discrimination and health.  Individuals’ ages 51+, employed full-time, part-time, or unemployed were drawn from the HRS Leave-Behind Questionnaire in 2006.  Approximately half of the sample retired during the observation period 2008-2014.  Key limitations are that valid and reliable measures of discrimination were queried only twice during an 8-year period, limiting our understanding of the timing of events as they relate to health and economic outcomes.

The paper found that:

  • The prevalence of discrimination across race and ethnicities was high. Blacks report the highest levels of major lifetime discrimination, Hispanics and blacks report the highest levels of neighborhood disadvantage, and whites report the highest levels of work and everyday discrimination compared to their counterparts.
  • Bivariate results reveal that discrimination across ecological contexts (major lifetime discrimination, neighborhood disadvantage, work discrimination and everyday discrimination) are negatively associated with retirement age.
  • Multivariate analyses found that early retirement was significantly associated with two important predictors: major lifetime discrimination led to retirement approximately 0.75 years earlier (p<.01) and work discrimination resulted in retirement approximately 0.58 years earlier (p<.05). Interaction effects were not significant.

The policy implications of the findings are:

  • Federal, state and employer policies and practices that protect individuals from major lifetime and work discrimination will likely expand productive engagement among white, racial, and ethnic minority workers.
  • The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (S. 443) is a bipartisan bill currently under review in Congress. This legislation would reinstate the original intent of age being a factor to discrimination, as opposed to the primary factor, in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
  • Similarly, the Fair Employment Protection Act (S. 2019) aims to protect individuals from modern and covert forms of discrimination based on age and other characteristics within the workplace.
  • The Department of Labor could collaborate with the president to develop guidelines for workplace or anti-discrimination statutes through executive order.
  • Organizational psychology research offers several ideas about how to challenge stereotyping and discrimination, including swift, just, and consist sanctioning of instigators within organizations; developing a “common in-group identity model” in the workplace; and increasing personal awareness about biases and attitudinal dispositions and fostering the ability to see the individual rather than a stereotype.