How may immigrants affect women’s retirement decisions?

Lay summary by Sofie T. Nyland Brodersen

How may the inflow of immigrants affect the retirement decisions of women? This study examines this particular relationship using register and survey data from Italy. The study analyzes a representative sample of Italian women from 2000–2008 and finds that an in-crease of immigrants causes women to delay their retirement.

Previous studies that have investigated the effects of immigration on female labor supply have primari-ly focused on women in the child-bearing age. This study adds to the existing literature by arguing that just as immigrants may increase the availability of babysitters, they may also increase the availability of caretakers for the elderly. This framing is in many cases more relevant for present-day society where Europe in general, and Southern Europe in particular, experiences both declining birth rates and an aging population thereby shifting the need for care activities from childcare to caring for elderly parents. To illustrate this need for examining the inflow of immigrants on retirement decisions of women in the 55–70 age range, this study establishes that out of a sample of these women in 2000, 12% were engaged in childcare while 62% were involved in caring for older relatives.

From a general societal and gender equality perspective this question is relevant as the main takeaway point is that the gender gap between men and women in the labor market decreases when there is access to inexpensive labor in areas where women traditionally would sacrifice their career to stay at home and take care of children or elderly family members. On average, Italian women retire more than one year earlier than men (aged 61.45 vs 62.75). However, this study shows that if immigrants increase by just 1 percentage point of the local population, women are found to increase their retire-ment age by 0.17 years. For women in families with elderly parents, this increase is 0.45 years. As immigrants often take up the roles of caretakers in the job market an increased inflow of immigrants may therefore result in fewer women substituting work for domestic labor such as caring for elderly family members.

While the effects are present for all kinds of immigrants, the study also analyzes how the effects may change depending on origin and gender of the immigrants. These separate results show that the effects are indeed larger when the local inflow of immigrants consists of women from Eastern Europe or Asia, and lower, although still significant, if immigrants are only men.

This study finds that the gender gap in retirement ages is particularly decreased among low-wealth households or among low-educated women when the inflow of immigrants increases. The study there-fore concludes that the inflow of immigrants may contribute to empowering women in countries where they traditionally would substitute their jobs to take up the majority of household chores.

For further information

Read the Labour Economics original research article which this summary is based on Immigrants, domestic labor and women’s retirement decisions (October 2015).

Visit the profile of the research ambassador, Sofie T. Nyland Brodersen, who wrote this summary.

STM Digest is a collection of lay summaries published next to original research articles on ScienceDirect, provided free of charge, and accessible to everyone.

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