Using data from several large scale longitudinal surveys, this paper investigates the relationship between older women’s personal incomes and their work histories in the UK, US and West Germany. By comparing three countries with very different welfare regimes, we seek to gain a better understanding of the interaction between the life course, pension system and women’s incomes in later life. The association between older women’s incomes and work histories is strongest in West Germany and weakest in the UK, where there is evidence of a pensions’ poverty trap and where only predominantly full-time employment is associated with significantly higher incomes in later life, after controlling for other socio-economic characteristics. Work history matters less for widows (in all three countries) and more for younger birth cohorts and more educated women (UK only). We conclude with a brief discussion of the ‘women-friendliness’ of different pension regimes in the light of our analysis
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