NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

A House of Her Own: Old Age Assistance and the Living Arrangements of Older Nonmarried Women

Dora L. Costa

NBER Working Paper No. 6217 (Also Reprint No. r2235)
Issued in June 1999
NBER Program(s):   AG   DAE

I show that the trend towards single households among older nonmarried women, the majority of whom were widows, has been ongoing only since 1940 and investigate the factors that fostered the rise in separate living quarters since mid-century by examining the impact of Old Age Assistance on living arrangements in 1940 and 1950. I find that Old Age Assistance substantially increased demand for separate living quarters, but that demand depended upon the rules of the program, in particular whether children were held legally responsible for the care of their aged parents. I argue that almost half of the decline in the fraction of older nonmarried women living with relatives from 1950 to 1990 can be attributed to rising Social Security benefits and expanded eligibility and to the fact that Social Security benefits were given with no strings attached.

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Published: Journal of Public Economics, vol. 72, pp. 39-59, 1999.

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