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Young and Mid-Adult Women's Household Retirement Preparation and Family Status

October 2018

Household preparation for retirement among women aged 25–44 varied by marital status and number of children

Additional children in the household were associated with lower motivation to save for retirement, particularly for single mothers. Additional children were also associated with a lower likelihood of owning a retirement account and lower retirement account wealth among single-female households, but not for married households, controlling for key covariates including age, education, household income, and employer size.

Researchers posit some reasons why household retirement savings may differ by marital status and number of children:

  1. The interaction of parenthood status and marital status has consequences for available resources. For example, single mothers, on average, have substantially fewer resources than single childless adults or married households.
  2. All else equal, married couples have more money available for retirement savings through economies of scale, cost sharing, and resource pooling.
  3. Children could inhibit their parents' retirement savings by increasing the family's living expenses.
  4. Children may influence parents to prioritize saving for education over retirement.
Household-level Savings Motivation and Retirement Savings Accounts Among Women Aged 25–44, by Number of Children and Marital Status, 2001–2010 (in percent)
Characteristic and marital status Number of children
0 1 2 3 or more
Motivated to save for retirement  
Married 53.6 48.2 54.2 44.5
Single 40.2 29.8 21.4 16.4
With DC plan or IRA  
Married 66.4 68.3 70.2 60.1
Single 47.8 38.7 26.8 24.2
Offered DC plan at current job  
Married 70.4 73.8 71.7 63.4
Single 53.4 44.1 37.6 30.3
Contributing to DC plan (among those eligible)  
Married 79.2 81.7 82.1 80.0
Single 72.9 79.9 65.4 58.3
SOURCE: Authors' calculations based on Survey of Consumer Finances data from years 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2010.
NOTE: Results are weighted.
  • Policymakers and scholars are interested in understanding economic preparation for retirement over the adult life course.
  • It has become increasingly important to understand how various factors, including family life, are associated with retirement savings behaviors given the trend toward contributory retirement savings plans, which require more active participation by individuals and households.
  • DC plan refers to defined-contribution plans, such as the well-known 401(k).
  • IRA refers to individual retirement account and includes both regular and ROTH accounts.
  • Retirement account wealth refers to the value of all retirement accounts (DC accounts from current and past jobs and any¬†IRAs).
  • Economies of scale refers to the cost advantages that married individuals have due to sharing living expenses and domestic responsibilities.

SOURCE: Tamborini, Christopher R., and Patrick Purcell. 2016. “Women's Household Preparation for Retirement at Young and Mid-Adulthood: Differences by Children and Marital Status.” Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 37: 226–241.

NOTES: All content is simplified for presentation. Please see source material for full details and caveats.

The findings and conclusions presented in this summary are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the agency.