December 1, 2008
This paper examines the relationship between the family and work histories of older women in the UK and their individual incomes in later life, using retrospective data from the first fifteen waves of the British Household Panel Survey. The associations between women’s family histories and their incomes later in life are relatively weak, and in many cases insignificant. Divorce, early widowhood and re-marriage are not associated with significant differences in older women’s incomes, whilst motherhood is only associated with a small reduction in incomes later in life - and not at all for certain sub-groups of the population. Whilst there are significant differences in the work histories of older women with different family histories, this does not translate into large differences in their personal incomes, because work history-related income differentials are also relatively small. Even long periods in employment are not associated with significantly higher incomes in later life if these periods were in predominantly part-time or ‘mixed’ employment. Our analysis demonstrates how effective public transfers have been in dampening work history-related differentials in older women’s incomes, especially for widows and those towards the bottom of the income distribution. On the one hand, this could be seen as a positive finding in that the ‘pension penalty’ associated with events such as motherhood and divorce are not as severe as is often anticipated. On the other hand, the main reason for this is that the pension returns to working longer are relatively low, especially for low-skilled women. Recent pensions reforms should eventually produce more equitable outcomes as between men and women, though possibly at the expense of greater inequality among women with different work and family histories.