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Are Gender Differences Emerging in the Retirement Patterns of the Early Boomers?

Kevin E. Cahill, Michael D. Giandrea, and Joseph F. Quinn


Controlling for career employment later in life, the retirement patterns of men and women in America have resembled one another for much of the past two decades. Is this relationship coming to an end? Recent research suggests that the retirement patterns of the Early Boomers—those born between 1948 and 1953—have diverged from those of earlier cohorts. Gender differences appear to be emerging as well in the way that career men and women exit the labor force, after nearly two decades of similarities. This paper explores these gender differences in detail to help determine whether we are witnessing a break in trend or merely a short-term occurrence. We use data on three cohorts of older Americans from the nationally-representative, longitudinal Health and Retirement Study (HRS) that began in 1992. We explore by gender the types of job transitions that occur later in life and explore, in particular, the role of four potentially relevant determinants: the presence of dependent children; a parent in need of caregiving assistance; occupational status on the career job; and self-employment status. We find that, among career men and women, child and parental caregiving are not significant drivers of the retirement transitions of the Early Boomers, all else equal. Gender differences that may exist with respect to these characteristics are therefore unlikely to lead to persistent gender differences in retirement patterns. In contrast, self employment continues to be a statistically significant determinant of bridge job transitions and phased retirement. This finding, combined with the fact that men are much more likely than women to be self employed later in life, could lead to some differences by gender going forward, though the impact is likely to be limited given that the large majority of older workers are in wage-and-salary employment. Older Americans—both men and women—are responding to their economic environment by working later in life and exiting the labor force gradually. While some determinants of these decisions likely impact men and women differently, gender differences with respect to the retirement patterns of the Early Boomers appear to be the result of broader macroeconomic forces. The evidence to date suggests that gender differences may dissipate as the recovery ensues.