Wharton Pension Research Council Working Papers

Document Type

Working Paper

Date of this Version



The goal of this paper is to ascertain whether older women’s current and anticipated future labor force patterns have changed over time, and if so, to evaluate the factors associated with longer work lives and plans to continue work at older ages. Using data from both the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and the National Financial Capability Study (NFCS), we show that older women’s current and intended future labor force attachment patterns are changing over time. Specifically, compared to our 1992 HRS baseline, more recent cohorts of women in their 50’s and 60s’s are more likely to plan to work longer. When we explore the reasons for delayed retirement among older women, factors include education, more marital disruption, and fewer children than prior cohorts. But household finances also play a key role, in that older women today have more debt than previously and are more financially fragile than in the past. The NFCS data show that factors associated with retirement planning include having more education and greater financial literacy. Those who report excessive amounts of debt and are financially fragile are the least financially literate, had more dependent children, and experienced income shocks. Thus shocks do play a role in older women’s debt status, but it is not enough to have resources: people also need the capacity to manage those resources if they are to stay out of debt as they head into retirement.


Debt; financial fragility; retirement; work longer; debt management

JEL Code

D91, J14, G33

Working Paper Number


Copyright/Permission Statement

Opinions and conclusions expressed herein are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of the funders or any other institutions with which the authors are affiliated. Copyright 2016 Lusardi and Mitchell. All rights reserved.


The authors thank Julie Agnew, Claudia Goldin, Larry Katz and participants at the ‘Women Working Longer’ conference for comments, and Noemi Oggero and Yong Yu for expert programming and research assistance. Research support was provided by the TIAA Institute and the Pension Research Council/Boettner Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.



Date Posted: 06 March 2019