Economic status in later life among women who raised children outside of marriage

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2004 Nov;59(6):S315-23. doi: 10.1093/geronb/59.6.s315.


Objective: Many single mothers are likely to face special economic challenges in old age, because they often have limited employment histories and cannot rely on husbands for financial support. This article examines the economic status of these women in later life.

Methods: The analysis uses nationally representative data from the Health and Retirement Study to estimate multivariate models of income, assets, and poverty rates for women aged 65-75 in 1999.

Result: Controlling for education, current marital status, and race and ethnicity, the models indicate that women who spent > or =10 years raising dependent children outside of marriage are 55% more likely to live in poverty at ages 65-75 than women who were always married when their children were young.

Discussion: The financial difficulties confronting single mothers raising children persist into later life. Social Security reforms, especially those that are not tied to the current system of spousal and survivor benefits, could improve retirement security for these vulnerable women, whose numbers will begin to soar when the many women who raised children outside of marriage in the 1970s retire in coming years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child Rearing*
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illegitimacy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Single-Parent Family / psychology
  • Social Support
  • Socioeconomic Factors