ISR Awards

Examining self-employment and the transition to retirement among older adults in the United States

Many people engage in self-employment, yet there exists a dearth of data on these arrangements. This lack of data prevents consideration of important questions relevant to employment, retirement, inequality, and policy. Who works in different types of self-employment? Does access to a pension, assets, or spousal income or benefits facilitate some individuals obtaining higher quality self-employment arrangements? To what extent does the income from different types of arrangements keep people out of poverty? Are different types of arrangements associated with individuals being happier, healthier, and having more job satisfaction? How does self-employment fit into employment decisions over the life cycle? Better understanding the nature of these jobs and characteristics of the people that hold them is important for identifying disparities in work, income, and well-being.
This project will leverage novel restricted-access data collected in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) in 2016 on the employer names and locations for older workers reporting self-employment. The project will use this newly-available information to classify self-employment reports into a useful framework that can be made available publicly. For example, such additional information would provide insight into whether self-employment consisted of running their own business, babysitting, working as a real estate agent, or working in the gig economy. The project will then use these classifications of self-employment, along with the breadth of information collected in the Health and Retirement Study and linkage to administrative records, to better understand the characteristics of individuals working in different types of self-employment, how self-employment is associated with financial, physical, and emotional well-being, and reasons for discrepancies in administrative and survey reports of self-employment. Exploring these questions will provide unique insights into the changing nature of work and the transition to retirement relevant to policy considerations across the health, insurance, and retirement income dimensions, among others.