Date of Award

Winter 2015

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Heather A Turner

Second Advisor

Reagan A Baughman

Third Advisor

Rebecca Glauber


In the past 40 years, women in the U.S. have experienced higher rates of labor force participation and higher rates of divorce and single motherhood. How these changes will affect women when they reach old age is not yet understood. Using a pooled sample from the Health and Retirement Study of 4,350 women born between 1931 and 1943, this dissertation assesses patterns of women’s work/retirement circumstances at age 66-68 and evaluates the relationship between those patterns and women’s earlier life marital, work, and childrearing history. Latent class analysis revealed four distinct classes of older women: the "retired well" (57.6% of the sample) were not working for pay but were in good or excellent health and had household wealth in the top 75%. "Retired unwell" women (14% of the sample) were also not working but were in fair/poor physical health and had very low household wealth. The "working advantaged" (17.1% of the sample) were healthy women still working, primarily in professional/managerial occupations, earning above median wages, and having the highest median levels of household wealth of the four groups. The “working average" class (11.7% of the sample) were women still in the labor force, overwhelmingly in sales/labor/service jobs and making below median wages. This group had a 1 in 5 chance of being in fair/poor health and a 1 in 3 chance of being in the bottom wealth quartile.

Multivariate latent class analysis including covariates revealed several significant relationships between women’s earlier life history and latent class at age 66-68. Women who had spent any time as a single mother or who had ever been divorced had higher odds of being retired unwell or working advantaged than retired well. Women with strong attachment to the labor force across their lives were less likely to be retired unwell and more likely to be either working advantaged or working average at age 66-68. Although single motherhood, work history, and marital history had independent effects on women’s late life status, race/ethnicity, education, and current marital status had stronger effects. Implications for future cohorts of older women are discussed.