2018 Call For Essays: Family Structure, Roles and Dynamics Linked to Retirement Security

Background and Content

Recently, there has been increased attention paid to the concepts of financial literacy and wellness, and retirement preparedness and security.  In the past three years, the Society of Actuaries (SOA) compiled essay collections that address issues related to diverse risks encountered in retirement; developments in the financial wellness arena; and perspectives, potential solutions and new innovations for securing future retirements.   

This 2018 call for essays seeks to expand the discussion and complement the previous essay collections.   The primary motivation of this year’s call is to identify the current and potential impact that family structure, roles and dynamics have on retirement security in the United States.  Family structure can, and in many instances, does play a significant role in retirement security worldwide. In the US, the retirement system and planning for retirement security often ignore the role that family structure, roles and dynamics can have on an individual’s or couple’s financial and retirement security and/or burden.

Past SOA-sponsored and funded research identified significant gaps in the process of financial decision-making and it was observed that much is done without thorough analysis of this potential factor that family plays.   Recent research from the Society of Actuaries (SOA) with individuals age 85 and over and adult children with parents age 85 and over provided insights into experiences during retirement.  More than half of this group needed help of some type and their family, often adult children, were a primary source of help. The Society of Actuaries research also observed that family help is not usually considered in planning.  Other research provides insights about retirees and their relationships to family members. In addition, a look at that research conveys that family is important to retirement in many different ways but often not part of the picture when retirement is planned

Given its role in assisting the public to understand retirement issues, the SOA Committee on Post-Retirement Needs and Risks is interested in exploring the role that family structure, roles and dynamics have and may have for workers and retirees in securing and maintaining a secure retirement.  With this in mind, the Committee is issuing this call for essays to gather data, thoughts and opinions on how to advance the state of effective practices to recognize the implications and potential impact family structure, roles and dynamics have on retirement security.

The following are suggested areas/topics and questions for respondents to consider.   The list is neither exhaustive nor intended to be restrictive:

Family Support Financial And Physical

  • How do families help each other across generations?  How does that impact older members of society?

  • In some situations, much less is needed in retirement assets because the family will help members who need care and help.  How do you see the role of the family as a “risk pooler” and what might be done to reflect this in planning?

  • What factors contribute to different expectations about the role of family in helping older family members?

  • Should retirement planning include family members in the discussions? Should long-term care be a part of that discussion?

  • Many adult children help parents when they need financial and other assistance.  What is known about this type of assistance? What can we do to learn more?

  • Living arrangements for the aging and retired can involve living with or in close proximity to family members. How can this contingency be appropriately considered and factored into planning?

  • Retirees may be called upon to financially assist offspring or grandchildren with unexpected emergencies, such as loss of jobs, health care, divorce or early disability events, or for expected expenses, such as college costs for grandchildren. Should people planning for retirement include a buffer or budget for such contingencies, and if so, how much?

Family Structure

  • Families today can be “blended” families consisting of prior relationships and children from prior relationships.  Are children less likely to help step-parents?  What happens when the step-parent is widowed? Do members of blended families need to think differently about planning? What special issues do they have?

  • What are retirement security considerations for elder orphans, who do not have family available to help in the event of major financial shocks, physical or cognitive problems?  What do we know about how they cope and where they might seek advice?  How should their retirement plans differ?  Is it more important for them to buy long-term care insurance, for example? How can they build a support network?

  • What are the retirement security considerations for single heads of households? What do we know about how they cope with dependent children and dependent parents or extended family? Where do they seek planning advice? How should their retirement plans differ? What special issues do they have?

  • What are the retirement security consideration for LGBTQ family members? What happens if family support is absent or estranged? What happens if being out at work is not an option and complicates financial planning conversations? What do we know about how they cope and where they seek advice?

  • What do we see in the area of extended family assisting, e.g. grandchildren, siblings, aunts and uncles, and in-laws?  Should one engage extended family in discussions? 

  • What are the potential implications and impact of legal judgements, e.g. divorce, wills, probate, for retirement planning and security?

  • What types of measures or indexes may be developed to help assess the relative level of retirement security that can be expected as it relates to family structure?

Family Decision-Making And Conflict 

  • While families can serve a helping role, at times family members may pose legal and criminal issues.  Should fraud, financial abuse and other such issues be an upfront concern in dealing with family members? Should support service companies and professional caregivers report to authorities instances of abuse and in what situations should there be involvement?   

  • Are there approaches, professionals or organizations that can help manage conflict among family members making late in life decisions especially when health conditions like dementia and other disabilities are present?  What case studies/stories/examples illustrate life experience in this area?  

  • How does the responsibility of caregiving and providing support impact the caregiver?


Demographic Influences

  • Are there gender, age, racial, religious, ethnic, LGBTQ differences in how people relate to family?

  • Are there gender, age, racial, religious, ethnic, LGBTQ differences in the need for help by family?

  • Are there gender, age, racial, religious, ethnic, LGBTQ differences in family financial planning?

  • Does the number of dependents and age of dependents raise issues?

Changes And Differences 

  • Over time: How has the role and/or definition of family changed over time? 

  • Across Countries: What can be learned from other countries about how families help each other across generations and the impact on older family members? Do different types of family structures have different issues in planning for old age and retirement?

  • Multicultural differences: What can we learn from the differences in family roles in different cultures, races and ethnicities?  How do multicultural communities deal with the US systems and practices?   Are there new tools or sources available to help the different cultures navigate the US systems?

  • Geographic: Different community support systems for the elderly: There are entire Communities in the US that lack medical care and basic infrastructure and support for the elderly. How do families deal with the lack of support, hospice and long term care services?

  • Technology: How do changes in technology help or hurt families in supporting elderly family members? Examples of help include: video calling and mobile messaging applications, use of remote healthcare, home video surveillance applications, taking medication, robots, families living in different parts of the country and world. Examples of harm include: data security, identify and financial theft that requires family assistance.


Stakeholder Perspectives 

Essays may consider an issue from the perspective of an individual or other stakeholders (e.g., regulators or employers) and identify the applicable considerations for each stakeholder.  For this call for essays, there is particular interest in the perspective of an individual and how other parties can influence an individual’s retirement security. Examples of key stakeholders include the following entities:

  • policymakers
  • regulators
  • employers
  • employees
  • trade groups
  • family members
  • advocates or representatives
  • providers

Related to this, discussions of program design for demographic groups: race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, or national origin, and others are welcome.


September 1, 2018: Call for essays issued

November 16, 2018: Deadline for submission of essays

November-December 2018: Review of essays and selection by December 31, 2018.

Length and Instructions for Submission

Essays must be submitted in English with a length requirement of between 1,000 and 2,500 words. In the event that an essay exceeds 2,500 words, the essay may be declined or returned to the author with a request for further editing and resubmission. There is no requirement for formal or extensive footnoting.

Author information must be submitted with the essay and include name; credentials or designations (if appropriate); title; organization/company; e-mail address; and phone number. Please provide all author information at the beginning of the essay.

Essays that contain any overt political statements, commercial content, and other inappropriate material will not be accepted. Articles must comply with the SOA's antitrust guidelines.

Please submit your essay via e–mail by November 16, 2018 to:

Barbara Scott, Research Administrator
Society of Actuaries
e–mail: bscott@soa.org


$10,000 in award money has been allocated for this call for essays.  The review committee will select the leading essays and determine how to allocate the award money.  Consideration will be given to creativity, originality and the extent to which an idea could contribute to the further development of solutions.  In exchange for award money, selected authors will be required to assign all copyrights in their essays to the Society of Actuaries.

Authors are ineligible for awards if an essay is based on an SOA-sponsored and funded research study conducted by the author. However, authors are welcome to submit such essays for publication consideration.

Publication and Presentation

Depending on how many essays are received and the diversity among the topic areas, a suitable format for electronic publication and dissemination will be selected.  Essays may also be presented at an SOA meeting, webcast, or other professional development event.

In addition, other venues for publication or presentation of the ideas outside of the SOA will considered. It is hoped that publication of the collected essays will further knowledge and stimulate discussion as well as promote future efforts in this area.

Rights Granted

Please understand that by submitting an essay for consideration, the essay author(s) is granting to the Society of Actuaries an unlimited license to print or republish their essay, with proper attribution given to the author. 


Please direct any questions regarding this Call for Essays to:

Steven Siegel, Research Actuary
Society of Actuaries
ph: +1-847-706-3578
e–mail: ssiegel@soa.org