Pensions and Household Structure: Pennsylvania Railroad Retirees in 1900 and 1910

George Alter, University of Michigan
Samuel Williamson, MeasuringWorth & Miami University

The proportion of elderly people living apart from children increased dramatically during the twentieth century (Gratton & Gutmann, 2010; Smith, 1982). Most observers attribute this change to increasing incomes, but others suggest that attitudes became less favorable to extended families. We use the introduction of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) Pension to examine the role of income in residential decisions of the elderly. In 1900 the Pennsylvania Railroad announced that all employees over the age of 70 would be retired from service with pensions. Although this policy had been discussed by management for several years, it came as a surprise to most workers. Records of the Pension Fund allow us to reconstruct the size of the pension received by each retiree and their earnings in the ten years before retirement. We are linking names in the pension fund to censuses to examine the relationship between incomes and household patterns in 1900 and 1910. These data will show the effect of incomes on household decisions in two ways. First, we can examine the relationship between earnings and co-residence with children among pre-retirement workers. Second, since PRR workers in 1900 had no expectation of receiving a pension, their expected future incomes were lower than expected incomes of PRR retirees of the same age in 1910. If household decisions were affected by income, co-residence with children should have decreased between 1900 and 1910. Gratton, B., & Gutmann, M. P. (2010). Emptying the nest: Older men in the United States, 1880–2000. Population and Development Review, 36(2), 331-356. Smith, D. S. (1982). Historical change in the household structure of the elderly in economically developed societies. In P. N. Stearns (Ed.), Old age in preindustrial society (pp. 248-273). New York: Holmes & Meier.

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 Presented in Session 23. Household Structure and Kinship Networks