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Marriage has historically helped protect the financial health of couples and surviving spouses in old age. Based on their marriage, and independent of their own work history, spouses may receive retirement and survivor income through Social Security and some employer-sponsored pension plans. Many of the federal requirements governing these benefits were developed at a time when family structures, work patterns, and pensions were very different from what they are today. In recent decades, marriage has become less common, more households have two earners rather than one, and many employers have shifted from DB plans to DC plans. In light of these trends, GAO was asked to examine the issue of marriage and retirement security. Specifically, GAO examined: (1) the trends in and status of marriage and labor force participation in American households, (2) how those trends have affected spousal benefits and retirement savings behavior within households today, and (3) the implications of these trends for future retirement security. GAO analyzed nationally representative survey data including the Survey of Consumer Finances, the Survey of Income and Program Participation, and the Current Population Survey (CPS); conducted a broad literature review; and interviewed agency officials and a range of experts in the area of retirement security.


Suggested Citation
Government Accountability Office. (2014). Retirement security: Trends in marriage and work patterns may increase economic vulnerability for some retirees. Washington, DC: Author.