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Life Course Trajectories and Retirement Transitions

Jim Raymo (University of Wisconsin - Madison)

Objectives: This study investigates relationships between occupational trajectories and the timing of retirement.

Methods: Using the large sample of respondents to the 1993 and 2004 rounds of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, we estimate discrete-time hazard models for self-reported transition to retirement. We estimate the association between retirement timing and occupational experiences across the life course, evaluate the extent to which these relationships are mediated by characteristics temporally proximate to retirement, and explore potential gender differences in the relationship between life course trajectories and retirement timing.

Results: Preliminary analyses indicate that, net of current occupational status, cumulative exposure to higher status work is significantly related to retirement timing for men but not for women. The nature of this relationship differs by the measure of occupational status used, with cumulative engagement jobs characterized by higher occupational education associated with later retirement and cumulative engagement jobs characterized by higher occupational income associated with earlier retirement. The latter relationship disappears when current economic resources are controlled but the former is robust to control of a wide range of temporally proximate correlates of retirement.

Discussion: These analyses extend existing work on life course influences on retirement by (a) using detailed occupational history data for a large cohort sample now in the midst of the retirement process, (b) considering multiple dimensions of occupational trajectories across the life course, and (c) elaborating the mechanisms through which life course trajectories influence the timing of retirement. These extensions are important in the context of growing heterogeneity in both occupational experiences across the life course and in the retirement process.