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Amy M. Pienta photo

Retirement in the 1950's: Rebuilding a Longitudinal Database

a PSC Research Project

Investigators:   Amy M. Pienta, Caroline S. Blaum, David Weir

As the earliest Social Security policies were beginning to influence the behavior of a growing share of the US labor force, the Cornell Study of Occupational Retirement (Cornell Retirement Study) launched with a plan to prospectively follow a large, 4,032 person, national cohort of retirement-age men and women employed in the US in 1952. The study was designed to understand the transition from work to retirement. Baseline interviews were conducted with a cohort of workers (age 64) in 1952. Follow-up interviews were conducted every 1 to 2 years for 6 years. The survey included a wide range of questions about: sociodemographic characteristics, family, daily activities, work (type of work and work satisfaction), economic status (income, homeownership, and household size), pensions, age identity, age stereotypes, retirement plans, health, life satisfaction and adjustment to the retirement transition. The Cornell Study of Retirement is an important and underutilized piece of retirement history for several reasons: (1) the longitudinal study pre-dates the Longitudinal Retirement History Study of the 1960s, (2) retirement behavior of both men and women was observed, (3) for a large portion of the sample, health and biomarker data were collected at multiple time points, but never analyzed, and (4) the data associated with the Cornell Retirement Study were never released for public-use. Further, the original research team, given analytic limitations associated with the times, tabulated descriptive results that painted a broad-based picture of retirement and family life in the 1950s. The overarching goal of this R03 project is to develop the recovered Cornell Retirement Study data into a useful data resource for the research community so that it is possible to make optimal use of such a large and complex database. To accomplish this, we propose to: (1) further develop and archive the original data, (2) create a longitudinal data file for change over time analyses, and (3) digitize and integrate the extensive set of physician exams and records to create a rich set of health and biomarker data. The Cornell Retirement Study is a unique and rich, large-scale data source containing valuable health and biomarker data that has never been made publically available to demographers, sociologists, and economists who could now apply state-of-the-art research questions and methods to these data. Given the Social Security policy changes of the 1950s, the study represents an unprecedented data resource for understanding how retirement culture emerged during this landmark time period.

Funding Period: 08/01/2012 to 07/31/2014

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