What Factors Explain the Decline in Widows' Poverty?

23 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2018

See all articles by Alicia H. Munnell

Alicia H. Munnell

Boston College - Center for Retirement Research

Geoffrey Sanzenbacher

Boston College Economics Department

Alice Zulkarnain

Boston College - Center for Retirement Research

Date Written: May 2018

Abstract

One of Social Security’s objectives is to ensure that vulnerable groups have adequate income in retirement. Historically, widows have been of particular concern for policymakers due to their high rates of poverty. However, over the past several decades, their poverty rate has fallen considerably. If it falls farther, widowhood may warrant lower placement on policymakers’ priority list. To understand why this decline has occurred and what this means for the future, this project uses the Health and Retirement Study linked to administrative earnings and benefit records. Specifically, the project focuses on three factors that could explain the decline in widows’ poverty: 1) women’s rising levels of education; 2) their increased attachment to the labor force; and 3) increasing marital “selection” – i.e., the notion that while marriage used to be equally distributed, it is becoming less common among those with lower socioeconomic status. The project explores both what share of the decline in poverty can be explained by these factors and also projects the role of these factors in the future.

Suggested Citation

Munnell, Alicia and Sanzenbacher, Geoffrey and Zulkarnain, Alice, What Factors Explain the Decline in Widows' Poverty? (May 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3240728 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3240728

Alicia Munnell (Contact Author)

Boston College - Center for Retirement Research ( email )

Fulton Hall 550
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
United States
617-552-1762 (Phone)

Geoffrey Sanzenbacher

Boston College Economics Department ( email )

United States

Alice Zulkarnain

Boston College - Center for Retirement Research ( email )

Boston, MA
United States

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