Cornell Study of Occupational Retirement, 1952 - 1958 (ICPSR 34918)

Published: Apr 29, 2014 View help for published

Principal Investigator(s): View help for Principal Investigator(s)
Gordon F. Streib, Cornell University; Wayne E. Thompson, Cornell University; Milton L. Barron, Cornell University; Edward A. Suchman, Cornell University

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The Cornell Study of Occupational Retirement is a national, longitudinal study of retirement that began in 1952 and was likely the first large-scale study of retirement behavior. The study aimed to understand and follow the transition from work to retirement -- a "well-defined" life transition in the 1950s. The study followed a cohort of 64-year-old workers into their retirement years. Over the course of the 6-year study, over 50 percent of the respondents retired. The survey includes a wide range of questions regarding: sociodemographic characteristics, family, daily activities, work (type of work and work satisfaction), economic status (income, homeownership, and household size), pensions, age identity, age stereotypes, retirement plans, health, life satisfaction and adjustment to the retirement transition.

Unique features of the study include: (1) Gender. Both men and women were surveyed. Much of our current understanding of retirement behavior mid-century (and even into the 1970s) is based on men's experiences. The Cornell Study includes female workers, both unmarried and married. (2) Longitudinal Design. Most retirement studies at that point in history were small-scale and cross-sectional. (3) Health Information. In addition to self-reported health information from the respondents, medical directors at the sampled companies were interviewed and asked to conduct a standardized physical examination of the employees in the sample -- the medical records on the respondents have been retained. These data are in hard-copy paper format. Thus, it appears that no meaningful analysis of the data has yet been conducted.

This study consists of data from the first wave of the project, conducted in 1952, along with waves 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the study, conducted in 1954, '55, '57, and '58, respectively. As the follow-up surveys for this longitudinal research, it provides useful information on changes in retirees' attitudes toward retirement and its accompanying life circumstances.

Streib, Gordon F., Thompson, Wayne E., Barron, Milton L., and Suchman, Edward A. Cornell Study of Occupational Retirement, 1952 - 1958. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2014-04-29.

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Lilly Endowment, Inc., United States Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Mental Health, United States Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Public Health and Science
Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research
1952 -- 1958
1952 -- 1958

This data collection includes 52 boxes of punch cards and 7 filing cabinets of hard-copy documentation (codebooks, data collection instruments, final reports, publications, and correspondence). Data has been processed using output from a punch card reader and synthesized using Microsoft Excel and IBM SPSS Statistics into a single data set for each wave of the study. Because the punch cards represent the only data records we currently have for the study's main questionnaires, some cases from the original data may not be present.

The primary purpose of this research was to record and analyze the effects of retirement as compared with continued employment. Researchers hoped to better understand some of the issues associated with retirement and to therefore mitigate its potential effects on older workers and their employers.

The study was conducted over the course of six years with a longitudinal design. Participants were selected from a wide variety of companies and industries located across the United States and representing all social classes, as well as both public and private sectors. When the study began, all participants were gainfully employed and were born in 1888 and 1889, ensuring their retirement eligibility. These individuals filled out survey questionnaires regarding their attitudes toward retirement on five occasions throughout the course of the study - once in 1952, and again in 1954, 1955, 1957, and 1958. Case by case information was then transferred to punch cards for storage and analysis.

Study participants were born between the years of 1887 and 1889 and were 64 years old when first interviewed in 1952. The sampling strategy was built mainly around selecting companies classified in the United States Census across the range of industrial classifications and interviewing all age-eligible employees in selected companies. Companies with more than 1,000 employees were selected for the study and all 64-year-olds at the company were interviewed. In addition, to better represent white collar and professional workers, several federal, state, and city/county agencies were included in the sample, as were several school systems and a doctors' sample from New York state. Thus, the sample is a hybrid of a stratified sample supplemented with additional interviews to get at harder to study occupations. In total, 259 organizations were included in the study. In 1952, 4,032 participants began the study. Most interviews were conducted face-to-face in 1952. Although the study does not provide a representative sample, it includes a large, diverse and geographically comprehensive sample of the American labor force in 1952. The first follow-up interview was conducted 12 to 18 months after the first interview. The second follow-up interview was conducted in 1955/1956, and two additional follow-up interviews were conducted in 1957 and in 1958. Follow-up response rates (for those still living) ranged from 88 percent to 95 percent.

Longitudinal: Cohort / Event-based

Male and Female adult workers with retirement eligibility.

Surveys collected at each of the 259 participating institutions

survey data

Follow-up response rates were calculated based upon the portion of the sample still living throughout the study and ranged from 88 percent to 95 percent at different institutions.

In order to better define the effects of retirement on matters such as life satisfaction, economic security, and health, the original research team created several scale variables by combining data from individual related variables. The coding mechanisms for these scales were also created by the researchers, so, where possible, labels and codes for their corresponding variables have been provided.



2018-02-15 The citation of this study may have changed due to the new version control system that has been implemented. The previous citation was:
  • Streib, Gordon F., Wayne E. Thompson, Milton L. Barron, and Edward A. Suchman. Cornell Study of Occupational Retirement, 1952 - 1958. ICPSR34918-v2. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2014-04-29.

2014-04-29 The four follow-up waves of data were added to the existing baseline data.

2013-11-08 ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Performed consistency checks.
  • Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.


  • The public-use data files in this collection are available for access by the general public. Access does not require affiliation with an ICPSR member institution.

  • The citation of this study may have changed due to the new version control system that has been implemented. Please see version history for more details.
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This study is maintained and distributed by the National Archive of Computerized Data on Aging (NACDA), the aging program within ICPSR. NACDA is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Heath (NIH).