WI23-13: How Does the Death of a Partner During the COVID-19 Pandemic Affect the Economic Security of the Surviving Older Adult? Evidence From Credit Panel and Labor Force Participation Data



The death of a partner has long been recognized as a significant threat to the economic security of older adults. Older adults experienced a significant increase in unexpected deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study asks: How does the death of a partner during the COVID-19 pandemic affect the economic security of the surviving older adult? Does survivor financial vulnerability differ from pre-pandemic periods? We utilize a unique panel dataset for 2015-2021, combining individual level administrative data on quarterly labor force participation and earnings and detailed financial information from credit report data, for older adults (age 50 and older) in Ohio. The credit data include death indicators each quarter. We use co-residence at the same address and a predictive algorithm based on age, gender, and credit characteristics to match individuals in our dataset to probable partners within a household. We (1) examine how pre-pandemic indicators of financial vulnerability associate with the death of a partner during COVID-19; (2) estimate the relationship between the death of a partner and labor force and credit outcomes—identifying differential pandemic effects relative to prior periods; and (3) explore heterogeneous effects for particularly vulnerable groups of survivors—including women and those with weaker financial histories who are more likely dependent on Social Security survivors’ benefits. This study is among the first to provide a detailed analysis of the economic security of older adults who experienced the death of a partner during COVID-19.

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