Social Influences in Couples: The Case of Early Retirement Decisions

Maria Eismann, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI)
Kène Henkens, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI-KNAW)
Matthijs Kalmijn, University of Amsterdam

Two people who share their lives as partners will inevitably influence one another. This interdependence raises considerable interest in the family literature. One life sphere in which the ‘linked lives’ of couples are particularly consequential is work. Each partner’s work decisions affect where the couple lives, both partners’ job level, the division of labor after childbirth, and the possibilities for joint leisure. With the pending retirement of a large group of older workers, spousal influence on the retirement decision is a particularly topical issue. However, few studies truly treat retirement as a couple-level decision and incorporate spouses as separate actors in their research design. Our study is among these few. Moreover, we aim to disentangle different mechanisms though which spouses’ influence workers’ retirement intentions and behavior. Spouses might prefer workers’ early retirement because of its effect on themselves (e.g., increased joint leisure), indicating self-interest. Spouses might prefer workers’ early retirement because of its effect on workers (e.g., improved well-being), indicating altruism. Spouses might also come to prefer for workers what workers prefer for themselves, indicating adaptation. We further hypothesize that spousal influence runs via persuasion, in which workers change their preferences according to spouses’ preferences and pressure, in which workers act according to their spouses’ preferences irrespective of their own preferences.

To test our hypotheses, we analyze data from the NIDI Pension Panel Survey (2015), a multi-actor study of 3,300 older workers (age 60-63) and their spouses. Administrative data about subsequent retirement behavior allow us to study the effect of spousal preferences on workers’ preferences as well as behavior. Results strongly support the self-interest, altruism, and adaptation hypothesis. Moreover, spouses influence workers’ retirement decision via both persuasion and pressure. This study contributes to life course theories by theoretically interpreting the concept of linked lives.

Presented in Session 87: Families in Later Life Stages