Precarious Employment, Bad Jobs, Labor Unions, and Early Retirement

Raymo, James, John R. Warren, Megan M. Sweeney, Robert M. Hauser, and Jeong-Hwa Ho
Working paper no. 2010-14


Objectives:We examined the extent to which involuntary job loss, exposure to “bad jobs,” and employment in non-unionized jobs across the life course are associated with the risk of early retirement.

Methods:Using data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, a large (N = 8,609) sample of men and women who graduated from high school in 1957, we estimated discrete-time event history models for the transition to first retirement through age 65. We estimated models separately by sex.

Results: We found that experience of involuntary job loss, exposure to bad jobs, and not belonging to a labor union are associated with a lower risk of retiring before age 65. These relationships are stronger for men than for women and are mediated to some extent by pre-retirement differences in pension eligibility, wealth, job characteristics, and health.

Discussion: Results provide some support for hypotheses derived from theories of cumulative stratification suggesting that earlier employment experiences should influence retirement outcomes indirectly through later-life characteristics. However, the fact that mid-life employment experiences remain associated with earlier retirement, net of more temporally proximate correlates highlights the need for further theorization and empirical evaluation of the mechanisms through which increasingly common employment experiences influence the age at which older Americans retire.