Precarious employment, bad jobs, labor unions, and early retirement

James M. Raymo, John R. Warren, Megan M. Sweeney, Robert M. Hauser, Jeong Hwa Ho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Objectives. We examined the extent to which involuntary job loss, exposure to "bad jobs," and labor union membership 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 for men and women. Results. We found that experience of involuntary job loss and exposure to bad jobs are associated with a lower risk of retiring before age 65, whereas labor union membership is associated with a higher likelihood of early retirement. 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, midlife employment experiences remain associated with earlier retirement, net of more temporally proximate correlates, highlighting 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-259
Number of pages11
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Volume66 B
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research reported herein was supported by the National Institute on Aging (R01 AG-9775 and P01-AG21079), by the National Science Foundation (NSF-0550752), by the William Vilas Estate Trust, and by the College of Letters and Science and the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Additional support was provided by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at Osaka University. Research was conducted at the Center for Demography and Ecology and the Center for Demography of Health and Aging at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, which are supported by Center Grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R24 HD047873) and the National Institute on Aging (P30 AG17266). The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors. Data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study used in this analysis are publicly available at


  • Cumulative Stratification
  • Employment
  • Life Course
  • Retirement


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