Displacing the Family: Union Army Pensions and Elderly Living Arrange- ments

Dora L. Costa

NBER Working Paper No. 5429 (Also Reprint No. r2182)
Issued in January 1996
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy, Economics of Aging

I argue that the trend toward single households among retired men 65 years of age or older has been ongoing since 1880. When coresidence is measured by the percentage of elderly men living in the households of their children or other relatives, fully 57 percent of the decline in coresidence among elderly retired men from 1880 to 1990 occurred between 1880 and 1940. This trend has been disguised in more aggregated statistics by the relatively low retirement rates that prevailed in the past and by the unchanging coresidence levels of labor force participants. I investigate the factors that fostered this rise in separate living quarters for the aged by examining the determinants of living arrangements in 1910 among retired veterans receiving Union Army pensions. I find that Union Army pensions exerted a sizable, negative impact on the coresidence rates of the retired, implying that increases in income have always been associated with an increased demand for the privacy and autonomy provided by separate living arrangements. My findings imply that prior to 1940 rising incomes were the most important factor enabling the elderly to live alone. After 1940, increases in the attractiveness of independent living may have played a role.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w5429


  • Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 105, no. 6 (December 1997): 1269-1292. citation courtesy of
  • Dora L. Costa, 1998. "Displacing the Family," NBER Chapters, in: The Evolution of Retirement: An American Economic History, 1880-1990, pages 106-132 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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