Work-Life Balance and Labor Force Attachment at Older Ages


We use data from the Health and Retirement Study to examine the role of work-life balance as a non-monetary determinant of retirement transitions, conditional on job attributes such as hours of work, compensation, and benefits. We rely on self-reported measures of work-life conflict to proxy for low levels of work-life balance. We show that high levels of work-life conflict are significantly associated with subsequent reductions in labor supply for workers aged 51 to 79, and document heterogeneity by gender and employment status. Moreover, work-life conflict moderates labor supply responses to spousal health shocks. Workers who report higher levels of work-life conflict are significantly more likely to reduce their labor supply in the two years following a spouse’s health shock, and this effect is once more heterogeneous. The moderating effect of work-life conflict is stronger for women than men and, among female workers, stronger for those employed part-time at baseline.

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  1. 1.

    See Anderson et al. (2002), Aryee et al. (1998), Batt and Valcour (2003), Bianchi and Milkie (2010), Guest (2002), and Misra et al. (2011), among others. See also Hegewisch and Gornick (2011) for a comprehensive review of the literature linking workplace family-friendly practices and female labor supply.

  2. 2.

    We cannot study transitions from retirement or unemployment/not in the labor force back into work because work-life balance measures are only available for those currently employed.

  3. 3.

    The results of these regressions are available upon request.

  4. 4.

    Our results do not change when we exclude psychological problems from this definition.

  5. 5.

    We have also experimented with variables measuring accomplishment and sense of direction in life. Adding these as controls in our regressions does not affect the results.

  6. 6.

    The latter also captures reaching the Social Security normal retirement age. For individuals born in 1937 or earlier, this is 65, but it is gradually increased, reaching 67 for individuals born in 1960 or later. For most individuals in our sample, it is between 65 and 66 and thus the 65 dummy correlates very highly with the normal retirement age dummy, and including both in the model is not practical.

  7. 7.

    As a robustness check, Tables 11 and 13 in the Appendix show marginal effects of work-life conflict for male and female workers, respectively, estimated from regressions using more parsimonious sets of controls (basic demographics and time fixed effects in specification I, and the latter plus additional demographics, health and cognition, as well as household wealth in specification II). These are qualitatively and quantitatively very similar to those from the main specification, which includes additional controls for work-related monetary incentives such as public/private pension arrangements and public/private health insurance.

  8. 8.

    Tables 14 and 15 in the Appendix show estimated coefficients from the specification in the third panel of Table 7, which controls for health transitions, individual traits, and life-to-work conflict. Estimates from specifications including only health transitions (first panel) and health transitions plus personality traits (second panel) are very similar and available upon request.


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This research was funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration through the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center (UM17-11). SSA and MRRC had no role in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; and in the decision to submit the article for publication. There are no other interested parties and the authors have no further disclosures about this research.

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Correspondence to Marco Angrisani.

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Table 10 Full set of average marginal effects for Table 5 (male workers)
Table 11 Average marginal effects of WLC on employment transitions (male workers): Parsimonious sets of controls
Table 12 Full set of average marginal effects for Table 5 (female workers)
Table 13 Average marginal effects of WLC on employment transitions (female workers): Parsimonious sets of controls
Table 14 Average marginal effects of additional controls as in Table 7 (male workers)
Table 15 Average marginal effects of additional controls as in Table 7 (female workers)
Table 16 Full set of FE estimated coefficients for Table 8

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Angrisani, M., Casanova, M. & Meijer, E. Work-Life Balance and Labor Force Attachment at Older Ages. J Labor Res 41, 34–68 (2020).

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  • Retirement
  • Job characteristic
  • Health shock
  • Gender difference

JEL Classification

  • J26
  • J28