StatsCan Study: Retiring together, or not – 1986 to 2001

Rather than retiring together, men and women in dual-earner couples appeared to have approached retirement in a more independent fashion during the 1990s, a new study has found.

The study, published today in Perspectives on Labour and Income, examined the extent to which spouses in dual-earner couples synchronized the timing of their retirements over the last two decades. It also looked at factors associated with taking different paths into retirement.

Among dual-earner couples in which at least one spouse retired in 2001, 29% of the spouses retired within two years of each other. This was a slight decline from about 32% during the late 1980s and 1990s.

There was also a decreasing tendency among couples to retire within two to four years of each other. For example, in 1986, in cases where the husband retired first, 19% of wives retired within two to four years. For husbands retiring in 2001, only 15% of wives retired within two to four years.

On the other hand, the proportions of husbands and wives who retired five or more years later than their spouses increased substantially from the 1986 cohort to the 2001 cohort.

Overall, this suggests that dual-earner couples in Canada took a more independent approach towards retirement during this 15-year period.

The opportunity to retire jointly may be constrained by factors such as age differences, health conditions, eligibility for pensions, job loss and career aspirations.

The study found that the likelihood that spouses would retire jointly was greater among older couples than younger couples.

A one-year increase in the age of the husband decreased the likelihood that either spouse retired five or more years after the other by about 2 percentage points. It increased the likelihood of joint retirement by 3.2 points.

Perhaps not surprisingly, if a husband in a dual-earner couple was 65, his or his wife’s retirement was likely to have been accompanied, or closely followed, by the other’s retirement.

In contrast, if the husband was 55, his or his wife’s retirement was less likely to have been accompanied by the other’s retirement. The other spouse was more likely to continue working.

The age difference between spouses was also a factor. A wife who was much younger than her husband was more likely to continue working after he retired than a wife who was about the same age or older.

Financial characteristics, including pension contributions prior to retirement, were also important. Husbands and wives earning $45,000 or more were significantly less likely to continue working five or more years after their spouses’ retirement compared with those earning less than $15,000.

Conversely, husbands and wives with incomes of $45,000 or more were significantly more likely to retire jointly.

Wives who had pension coverage, and who contributed a larger share to the couples’ income, were more likely to continue working after their husbands’ retirement than wives who did not have pensions or who contributed less.

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