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December 1983, Vol. 106, No. 12
How do families fare
when the breadwinner retires?
For 17 years, the National Longitudinal Surveys of Labor Market Experience (NLS) have gathered data that illuminate family life when the breadwinner has retired. The NLS were developed in 1965 to answer the question, "Why are increasing numbers of men leaving the work force before retirement age?" Because the male traditionally provides the bulk of family income, most retirement studies focus on his experience, but the surveys also include a female cohort who will soon be in retirement.
Older men in the NLS, now ages 62 to 76, have been interviewed 11 times in 17 years, and the mature women, now ages 46 to 60, 11 times in 16 years.1 Researchers have used the data to look at predictors and measures of retirement and its relationship to health, family income, family structure, and general life satisfaction. Retirement planning and the effects of unexpected retirement have also been studied. (See box, page 42.) This article summarizes some recent NLS-based retirement studies which carry the strongest implications for the familywhy and how the major breadwinner enters retirement, sources of family income after retirement, and overall satisfaction with life after retirement. Because family well-being depends largely on why and how the major breadwinner enters retirement, voluntary and involuntary retirees will be discussed separately.
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1 In 1966, the older men's cohort included 5,034 respondents; in the most recent survey in 1981, 2,32 were interviewed. Of these, 2,26 were married, spouse present: 13 were married, spouse absent: 246 were widowed; 114 were divorced, 66 were separated; and 107 were never married. As for numbers of dependents excluding the wife, 2,316 had none and 505 respondents, and in 1981, 3,677 were interviewed. In 1981, 2,577 of the women's cohort were married, spouse present; 7 were married, spouse absent; 37 were widowed; 362 were divorced, 178 were separated; and 166 were previously married. As to the number of dependents excluding the husband: 1,817 had none and 1,846 had one or more. Note that the women's cohort is generally 15 years younger than the men's. Attrition has not significantly changed the representativeness of the samples. For a detailed description of the NLS, see The National Longitudinal Surveys Handbook (Columbus, The Ohio State University, Center for Human Resource Research, 1982).
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