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Gender - Future Gender Differences

age aging social women percent aging family

After decades of widening, the gap between men and women in life expectancy showed some signs of narrowing at the end of the twentieth century. In 2000, the gap in the United States was about two years less than it was in 1970. As a result, a less skewed sex ratio at older ages may emerge, though it will certainly remain weighted toward females for a long time to come.

As for economic roles, it is widely known that women's labor force participation increased dramatically over the last decades of the twentieth century. Female labor force participation rates in the United States increased from 43 percent in 1970 to 60 percent in 1998. The increase was especially dramatic among women forty-five to sixty-four years old, the ages right before retirement. Participation rates for this age group went from around one-half to three-quarters between 1970 and 1998. However, there have also been important changes in men's labor force participation. Over the last few decades of the twentieth century, men's labor force participation rates declined, with larger declines at older ages. Between 1970 and 1998, participation rates for men fifty-five to sixty-four years old decreased from 83 percent to 68 percent, while rates for men sixty-five and older decreased from 27 percent to 17 percent. These changes suggest that more recent and future cohorts of women will be better off economically as they enter old age. Fewer women will be financially dependent on their husbands or other family members. At the same time, more and more men may need, or at least benefit from, their wives working.

Changing family roles may also be important for different cohorts of aging men and women. Although a relatively small number of those sixty-five and older are divorced, the percentage increase between 1980 and 2000 in the United States was fairly large (from 3.4 percent to 7.1 percent for women and from 3.6 percent to 6.1 percent for men). This will likely have important implications—especially for older men, since fathers who are not married to their children's mother tend to receive less support from their children. In addition, it will be interesting to see if changing roles at home among younger couples translate into more egalitarian arrangements among older couples in future cohorts.



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