RRC Publications Archive

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October 2013

The Assets and Liabilities of Cohorts: The Antecedents of Retirement Security

by J. Michael Collins, John Karl Scholz, and Ananth Seshadri
SSA Project # UM13-11
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2013-296

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This paper uses repeated cross-sectional data from the Surveys of Consumer Finances (SCF) to characterize cohort patterns of net worth and debt of American households. Cohort patterns provide a useful benchmark for identifying potentially vulnerable households based on relative financial positions over time at similar ages. We also summarize attitudinal measures thought to be related financial capability. Both sets of descriptive data are useful in assessing the well-being of households over the life course and ultimately preparation for retirement. We find a striking rise in debt across cohorts over time, relative to total assets and relative to income, although debt-holding declines with age as is expected. Debt is dominated by mortgages, particularly for more recent cohorts relative to similar aged cohorts 15 years prior. Tabulations of age cohorts by race or education level show predictable similar patterns. An analysis of panel data using the 2007–2009 SCF provides some support for the idea that older households lost more during the recession, as did minorities and people of higher levels of net worth. While primarily descriptive in nature, the stylized facts presented in this paper are suggestive of the trajectory for households moving into retirement age over the next decade. We do not find substantial evidence of more recent generations falling behind, nor major shifts in attitudes towards risk taking or other attitudes that might be reasonably correlated with asset or debt levels.

Evaluating Web-based Savings Interventions: A Preliminary Assessment

by Wei-Yin Hu, Olivia S. Mitchell, Cynthia Pagliaro, and Stephen P. Utkus
SSA Project # UM13-10
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2013-299

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There is reason to believe that technological approaches can help promote voluntary saving in 401(k) retirement accounts. Working with Vanguard, a leading 401(k) plan administrator, we are evaluating the impact of introducing innovations to websites made available to retirement plan participants. The first innovation is a "Boost Your Saving" dial added to several plan homepages immediately after participants log on. The second innovation is a red/yellow/green "Traffic Signal" that can help people evaluate how well they are prepared for retirement. Our goal is to examine contribution and portfolio allocation patterns in the cross-section and also compare pre/post outcomes. The present report provides a preliminary evaluation of the impact on 401(k) plan saving decisions of the web-based savings dial, designed to increase the salience of retirement saving. In what follows, we outline the innovation and some preliminary results. We show that including the savings dial on participants' webpages did boost plan contribution rates. Nevertheless the effect appears to have dissipated after several months, perhaps due to the skewed distribution of participant web logons or to exogenous tax law changes occurring during our evaluation period. We are continuing to evaluate the experiment over time to measure its long-term effects.

The Social Security Windfall Elimination and Government Pension Offset Provisions for Public Employees in the Health and Retirement Study

by Alan L. Gustman, Thomas L. Steinmeier, and Nahid Tabatabai
SSA Project # UM13-07
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2013-288

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This paper uses data from the Health and Retirement Study to investigate the effects of Social Security's Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision on Social Security benefits received by individuals and households. WEP reduces the benefits of individuals who worked in jobs covered by Social Security and also worked in uncovered jobs where a pension was earned. WEP also reduces spouse benefits. GPO reduces spouse and survivor benefits for persons who worked in uncovered government employment where they also earned a pension.

Unlike previous studies, we take explicit account of pensions earned on jobs not covered by Social Security, a key determinant of the size of WEP and GPO adjustments. Also unlike previous studies, we focus on the household. This allows us to incorporate the full effects of WEP and GPO on spouse and survivor benefits, and to evaluate the effects of WEP and GPO on the assets accumulated by affected families.

Among our findings: About 3.5 percent of households are subject to either WEP or to GPO. The present value of their Social Security benefits is reduced by roughly one-fifth. This amounts to 5 to 6 percent of the total wealth they accumulate before retirement. Households affected by both WEP and GPO lose about one third of their benefit. Limiting the Social Security benefit to half the size of the pension from uncovered employment reduces the penalty from WEP for members of the original HRS cohort by about 60 percent.

September 2013

Health Insurance and Retirement Decisions

by John Karl Scholz and Ananth Seshardi
SSA Project # UM13-01
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2013-292

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We develop a rich model to study the complex interrelationship between health insurance and retirement decisions. The decision to retire depends on a number of factors including availability of health insurance, health shocks, pensions, social security, and how consumption and health interact in the utility function. We incorporate these features in a computational model of optimal wealth and retirement decisions, solving the model household-by-household using data from the HRS. We use the model to study two important SSA priority areas: first, to what extent do people remain in the labor force until age 65 in order to maintain health insurance for themselves (and after age 65 to maintain health insurance for their spouses)? Second, do early retirees have poorer health than others and does the availability of Medicare interact with their decision to claim benefits?

Macroeconomic Determinants of Retirement Timing

by Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Jae Song, and Dmitriy Stolyarov
SSA Project # UM13-06
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2013-281

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We analyze lifetime earnings histories of white males during 1960–2010 and categorize the labor force status of every worker as either working full-time, partially retired or fully retired. We find that the fraction of partially retired workers has risen dramatically (from virtually zero to 15 percent for 60–62 year olds), and that the duration of partial retirement spells has been steadily increasing. We estimate the response of retirement timing to variations in unemployment rate, inflation and house prices. Flows into both full and partial retirement increase significantly when the unemployment rate rises. Workers around normal retirement age are especially sensitive to variations in unemployment rate. Workers who are partially retired show a differential response to high unemployment rate: younger workers increase their partial retirement spell, while older workers accelerate their transition to full retirement. We also find that high inflation discourages full-time work and encourages partial and full retirement. House prices do not have a significant impact on retirement timing.

Older Adult Debt and Financial Frailty

by Annamaria Lusardi and Olivia S. Mitchell
SSA Project # UM13-09
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2013-291

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Of particular interest in the present economic environment is whether access to credit is changing peoples' indebtedness over time, particularly as they approach retirement. This project analyzes older individuals' debt, debt management practices, and financial fragility using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and the National Financial Capability Study (NFCS). Specifically, we examine three different cohorts (individuals aged 56–61) in different time periods, 1992, 2002 and 2008, in the HRS to evaluate cross-cohort changes in debt over time. We also draw on recent data from the National Financial Capability Study (NFCS) which provides detailed information on how families manage their debt. Our goal is to assess how wealth and debt among older persons has evolved over time, along with the potential consequences for retirement security. We find that more recent cohorts have taken on more debt and! face more financial insecurity, mostly due to having purchased more expensive homes with smaller down payments. In addition Boomers are more likely to have engaged in expensive borrowing practices. Factors associated with better debt outcomes include having higher income, more education, and greater financial literacy; those associated with financial fragility include having more children and experiencing unexpected large income declines. Thus shocks do play a role in the accumulation of debt close to retirement, but this is not enough to have resources: people also need the capacity to manage those resources, if they are to stay out of debt as they head into retirement.

August 2013

Work and Retirement Patterns for the G.I. Generation, Silent Generation, and Early Boomers: Thirty Years of Change

by Richard W. Johnson, Barbara A. Butrica, and Corina Mommaerts
SSA Project # BC09-14
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-8

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This study examines how the shifting choices and constraints facing older workers have changed work and retirement patterns over the past 30 years. Health improvements, declines in physical job demands, changes in Social Security rules, and the erosion in traditional defined benefit pension coverage and employer-sponsored retiree health insurance have altered work incentives at older ages. This paper compares labor force exits by older workers born 1913 to 1917 (part of the G.I. Generation), 1933 to 1937 (part of the Silent Generation), and 1943 to 1947 (part of the Baby Boom Generation). The analysis uses 16-year longitudinal panels from the Health and Retirement Study and decades-long administrative earnings records linked to respondents in the Survey of Income and Program Participation.
The results show that early boomers worked longer than members of the Silent Generation, and that the pathways older workers follow out of the labor force have become more complex over time. The median retirement age for men was about one-half year higher in the 1943–47 cohort than in the 1933–37 cohort (62 vs. 61.5), but differences were more pronounced at older ages. By age 65, for example, 40 percent of early boomer men had not yet retired, compared with only 20 percent of Silent Generation men. Both male and female workers in the 1933–37 cohort were much less likely than their counterparts in the 1913–17 cohort to follow the traditional retirement path of exiting the labor force from full-time employment and never returning to work.

July 2013

How Do the Changing Labor Supply Behavior and Marriage Patterns of Women Affect Social Security Replacement Rates?

by April Yanyuan Wu, Nadia S. Karamcheva, Alicia H. Munnell, and Patrick Purcell
SSA Project # BC12-03
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2013-16

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This paper seeks to determine the impact of the changing lives of women—increased labor force participation/earnings and reduced marriage rates—on Social Security replacement rates. First, our estimates, based on the Health and Retirement Study and Modeling Income in the Near Term, show that Social Security replacement rates have dropped sharply at both the household- and individual-level, and the decline will continue for future retirees. Our second finding is that this aggregate change masks a complex relationship between replacement rates and the marital status and income levels of individuals. The decline in replacement rates over time is largest for married couples with husbands whose earnings are in the top tercile. Decomposing the reasons for the overall decline shows that increases in the labor supply and earnings of women explain more than one-third of the change. In contrast, the impact of changing marital patterns is relatively small. Much of the remaining explanation rests with the increased Full Retirement Age and changing claiming behaviors.

Representativeness of the Low-Income Population in the Health and Retirement Study

by Erik Meijer and Lynn A. Karoly
SSA Project # UM11-16
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2013-273

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We study to what extent the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) is representative of all income groups, but with a particular emphasis on low-income groups. To focus on the HRS sample composition and abstract from potential measurement issues associated with measures of income and program participation, we exploit the SSA administrative data matched to the HRS sample and compare their distribution against the distribution of the same variables for the same population in the SSA databases. We find that overall, for cohorts and years that can be most reliably compared, the distributions are very similar and conclude that the HRS is representative for the population it covers. However, for some subgroups in the low-income population (e.g., recipients of Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid beneficiaries), there are some differences and thus we caution against estimating population totals for such small subpopulations. The HRS samples for which restricted matched administrative data are available are often not representative of a broad population of interest, because not all HRS respondents were asked permission to match in any given year. Therefore, the restricted HRS data files are generally not suitable for estimating population distributions, although they are still very useful for modeling purposes.

June 2013

Employment Trends by Age in the United States: Why Are Older Workers Different?

by Sudipto Banerjee and David Blau
SSA Project # UM12-03
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2013-285

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Employment trends in the US were similar across age groups in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s: male employment rates declined or were flat at all ages and female employment rates increased or were flat at all ages. But employment trends diverged more recently, with employment rising at older ages and falling at younger ages, for both men and women. This paper seeks to explain this divergence. We estimate labor supply models for men and women, allowing differences in behavior across age groups. The results indicate that changes in the educational composition of the population and Social Security reforms can account for a modest proportion of the divergence. An additional factor for men was the increase in age at first marriage. However, much of the divergence remains unexplained.

Trends in the Composition and Outcomes of Young Social Security Disability Awardees

by Yonatan Ben-Shalom and David Stapleton
SSA Project # UM12-19
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2013-284

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A large share of new Social Security Disability (SSD) beneficiaries—disabled workers and disabled adult children (DAC)—are under age 40. Better information on the backgrounds, impairments, personal characteristics, and employment outcomes of these beneficiaries would help policymakers develop programs tailored to the needs and circumstances of various subgroups of such beneficiaries. We use administrative data on young SSD awardees first awarded benefits between 1996 and 2007 to examine trends in these awardees' composition and outcomes. We find that the composition of young SSD awardees changed substantially during this period. In 2007, compared to 1996, relatively more SSD awards to individuals under age 40 went to DAC versus disabled workers; to disabled workers and DAC who had received Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, especially as children, versus those with no SSI history; and to disabled workers and DAC with psychiatric disorders versus those with other types of impairments. We also find that disabled workers who received SSI as children are far more likely than those who did not receive SSI as children to earn more than $1,000 annually (in 2007 dollars) as of the fifth post-award year; that compared to disabled workers, DAC are considerably less likely to work and earn more than $1,000 annually; and that both disabled workers and DAC are significantly less likely to earn more than 12 times the non-blind substantial gainful activity level (SGA) annually than they are to earn more than $1,000 annually. We discuss factors that may have contributed to the observed trends.

May 2013

The Impact of Population Aging and Delayed Retirement on Workforce Productivity

by Gary Burtless
SSA Project # BC12-09
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2013-11

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As the population grows older an increasing share of the workforce will be past age 60. Older workers have often been considered less productive than younger ones, raising the issue of whether an aging workforce will also be a less productive one. This paper uses evidence from the monthly Current Population Survey files to shed light on the issue. It documents the rapidly growing role of older workers in the labor market and the steady improvement in their relative earnings. Compared with earlier generations of aged Americans and compared with contemporary prime-age workers, today's elderly are unusually well educated. Their high relative earnings and their later retirement are partly explained by this fact. At the same time, the paper offers evidence that more productive workers stay in the workforce longer than less productive ones. Using a standard measure of worker productivity—hourly wages—workers between 60 and 74 are more productive than average workers who are younger. Compared with workers between 25 and 59, the pay premium for older workers is currently between 10 percent and 20 percent of the average wage earned by the younger workers. That pay premium has been increasing for a decade. There is thus little evidence the aging workforce has hurt productivity.

April 2013

Does Access to Health Insurance Influence Work Effort Among Disability Cash Benefit Recipients?

by Norma B. Coe and Kalman Rupp
SSA Project # BC12-16
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2013-10

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There is considerable policy concern about "DI lock"—that tying public health insurance coverage to cash disability benefit receipt contributes to the low exit rates due to work. This concern led Congress to institute continued health insurance eligibility after disability beneficiaries leave the cash-benefit rolls for work-related reasons. However, unlike the long literature on "job lock," the importance of the DI lock hypothesis—either before or after these extensions—has remained unquantified.
This paper tests whether a "perceived DI lock" remains among disability beneficiaries, and whether state health insurance policies help alleviate the problem and encourage work among beneficiaries. The analysis includes both DI and SSI beneficiaries, and tests if there are differential patterns between the two programs. We exploit state variation in the access and cost of health insurance, caused by regulation of the non-group market, the existence of Medicaid buy-in programs, and Medicaid generosity, as well as detailed disability and health insurance program interactions. While overall we find little evidence of any persistent DI-lock, heterogeneity is very important in this context. Our estimates suggest that increasing health insurance access does increase the likelihood of positive earnings among a subset of disability beneficiaries. We find evidence of SSI lock among beneficiaries with some Medicaid expenditures, and that both non-group health insurance regulation and generous Medicaid eligibility help alleviate the problem. We find evidence of remaining DI lock among individuals who do not have access to supplemental health insurance outside of Medicare. Medicaid buy-in programs alleviate the remaining DI lock.

March 2013

How Will Older Workers Who Lose their Jobs During the Great Recession Fare in the Long-Run?

by Matthew S. Rutledge, Natalia Orlova, and Anthony Webb
SSA Project # BC12-04
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2013-9

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In economic downturns prior to the Great Recession, workers over age 50 had escaped relatively unscathed. But the unemployment rate for older workers soared to record highs during the Great Recession. This paper projects how older workers will fare across a broad set of financial outcomes over the remainder of this decade. The model estimates how these outcomes differ between individuals who remained employed and those who were displaced during the recession, controlling for their demographic characteristics. We also seek to determine whether there is any variation in their financial outcomes based on the nature of their layoffs—mass versus individual layoffs—and whether labor market conditions played a role in these outcomes. First, the results show that displaced workers are projected to be significantly worse off: their earnings are 14–19 percent lower over the remainder of this decade, financial assets are 22–30 percent lower, and they are up to 8 percent more likely to experience another layoff. Projections also indicate that older Americans will continue to feel the effects of the Great Recession and that labor force participation, earnings and financial assets all will be lower than they would have been after a milder recession like the one in 2001–2003. Second, although the model allows for differences in the nature of layoffs and in local labor market conditions, there is neither evidence that workers subject to mass layoffs are of higher average quality nor evidence that outcomes are worse in locations hit by more severe recessions.

February 2013

The Use of VA Disability Benefits and Social Security Disability Insurance Among Veterans

by Janet M. Wilmouth, Andrew S. London, and Colleen M. Heflin
SSA Project # BC12-21
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2013-6

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Although there is substantial functional limitation and disability among veterans of all ages, relatively little is known about veterans' uptake of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Disability Benefits and Social Security Disability Insurance (DI). This project uses data from the 1992, 1993, 1996, 2001, 2004, and 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) to examine veterans' participation in VA and DI programs. The results indicate that the majority of veterans do not receive VA or DI benefits, but veterans' use of these programs has been increasing over time. A higher percentage of veterans receive VA compensation only, which ranges from 4.9 percent in 1992 to 13.2 percent in 2008, than DI compensation only, which ranges from 2.9 percent in 1992 to 6.7 percent in 2008. Furthermore, the rate of joint participation in these two programs is low, ranging from less than 1 percent in 1992 to 3.6 percent in 2008. Veterans experience relatively few within-panel transitions between VA and DI programs. Overall, the likelihood of any disability program use is higher among veterans who served during multiple time periods, are older, Black or Hispanic, currently married, and have less than a high school education. Among users, the likelihood of any VA use in contrast to only DI use is higher among veterans who served since 1990, are younger, Hispanic, highly educated, and currently married. Among users, variation in the likelihood of any DI use relative to only VA use generally mirrors variation in the likelihood of any VA use, although there are differences in associations with race/ethnicity, education, and marital status.

January 2013

Rethinking Optimal Wealth Accumulation and Decumulation Strategies in the Wake of the Financial Crisis

by Richard W. Kopcke, Anthony Webb, and Josh Hurwitz
SSA Project # BC12-11
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2013-1

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A substantial literature has developed models of optimal consumption and asset allocation based on the assumption that stocks and bonds have fixed returns, with normal independent, identically distributed disturbances. Households optimally rebalance from stocks to bonds as they age, reflecting the declining proportion of their wealth that is represented by low-risk human capital.
Using annual return data for large-capitalization stock and corporate bonds covering the period 1926 through 2011, the paper calculates optimal consumption and asset allocation over the life cycle for a household with Social Security benefits and uncertain labor market earnings. It considers the alternative assumptions that stock and bond returns 1) are normally distributed, 2) follow a vector autoregressive path (VAR) with normally distributed disturbances, and 3) follow a VAR with disturbances drawn from a stable distribution. The assumptions have a significant effect on asset allocation. At age 65, the optimal stock allocation is 52 percent, 68 percent, and 55 percent, respectively, for the three alternatives. When returns follow a VAR with stable disturbances, a household with a constant relative risk aversion (CRRA), assuming a coefficient of risk aversion of 2, would require a 1 percent increase in lifetime consumption to compensate it for assuming that the disturbances to returns follow a normal distribution. Households with a coefficient of risk aversion of 5 would require less than 0.1 percent, reflecting their lower accumulation of wealth and smaller stock allocations.
In the U.S. private sector, 401(k) and other defined contribution pension plans have displaced defined benefit plans as the dominant form of pension provision. Workers are responsible for building and investing the savings in their pension funds. Early findings in the theory of life-cycle consumption and portfolio theory suggested that workers would maintain a relatively fixed allocation of assets, depending on their tolerance for bearing risk. Subsequent research, however, concludes that life-cycle savers should rebalance their assets from stocks to bonds as they age, reflecting the declining value of their low-risk human capital.

Sticky Ages: Why is Age 65 Still a Retirement Peak?

by Norma B. Coe, Mashfiqur Khan, and Matthew S. Rutledge
SSA Project # BC12-01
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2013-2

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When Social Security's Full Retirement Age (FRA) increased to age 66 for recent retirees, the peak retirement age increased with it. However, a large share of people continue to claim their Social Security benefits at age 65. This paper explores two potential explanations for the "stickiness" of age 65 as a claiming age: Medicare eligibility and workers' lack of knowledge about their future Social Security benefits. First, we analyze the impact of Medicare eligibility by comparing two groups—one has an FRA of exactly 65; the other, between age 65 and 2 months and age 66. We find that the group with later FRAs who do not have access to retiree health benefits through their employer are more likely to claim Social Security at age 65. We interpret this finding as evidence that Medicare eligibility persuades more people to retire, because they can begin receiving federal health coverage. Individuals without access to retiree health insurance at work are 7.5 percentage points more likely to retire soon after their 65th birthdays and are 5.8 percentage points less likely to delay retirement until the FRA than those with that insurance. This result fits into extensive research showing that access to health insurance is an important component of the retirement decision. On the question of whether misinformation about Social Security benefits may drive individuals to claim at age 65, we find that some individuals are unable to accurately forecast their retirement benefits. However, our analysis suggests that there is no relationship between this confusion and the age 65 peak for claiming Social Security.

What is the Long-Term Impact on Zebley Kids?

by Norma B. Coe and Matthew S. Rutledge
SSA Project # BC11-13
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2013-3

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In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Sullivan v. Zebley case fundamentally changed, albeit temporarily, the criteria under which children qualified for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program based on disability. Instead of a system based on medical criteria alone, 1996 enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), children's eligibility for SSI was tied, in part, to the effects of their medically determinable impairments on their ability to function day-to-day in age-appropriate activities at home, at school, and in their communities. This paper examines what happened to the Zebley cohort after the age of 18 relative to cohorts who received SSI payments under stricter criteria. This paper evaluates the long-term impact on educational attainment, earnings, SSI and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) participation, and other markers of adult d! evelopment for the Zebley cohort. We find that, overall, SSI receipt in childhood is associated more positive outcomes than negative ones. The Zebley cohort has a longer attachment to the labor force and a lower likelihood of welfare receipt in adulthood, but also a higher likelihood of lacking health insurance coverage. In addition, those with health conditions most likely to be affected by the new evaluation criteria appear to substitute welfare benefits for disability benefits These results are consistent with the hypothesis that SSI receipt at the margin improves adult outcomes.

December 2012

The Downside of Defaults

by Jeffrey R. Brown, Anne M. Farrell, and Scott J. Weisbenner
SSA Project # NB12-05
National Bureau of Economic Research

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The use of default options to influence retirement saving behavior is often portrayed as a Pareto improvement because it guides behavior without constraining individual choice. When defaults are irreversible, however, the welfare implications of defaults depend critically on why individuals default. We examine the active versus passive behavior of participants in a large public retirement plan when faced with a choice between defined benefit and defined contribution plans. We document substantial heterogeneity in the self-reported reasons for default, with substantial fractions of the population citing each of the major hypothesized reasons for defaults, including information problems, complexity, procrastination, endorsement effects, and deliberate defaults (i.e., those who consciously chose to default because the default plan was their preferred option). We show that participants who default are substantially mo! re likely than active choosers to regret their plan selection, even relative to those who actively chose the same plan. We find that the extent of this regret varies significantly with the underlying reason for defaulting, with regret being significantly higher among those who defaulted due to information or procrastination, and significantly lower for those who defaulted deliberately.

November 2012

401(K) Participant Behavior in a Volatile Economy

by Barbara A. Butrica and Karen E. Smith
SSA Project # BC12-13
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2012-24

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The booms and busts of the late 1990s and 2000s have taken 401(k) plan participants on a rollercoaster ride. Using data from administrative tax records and household surveys, this paper examines how participants responded to these periods of economic expansions and contractions by documenting changes in 401(k) participation, contributions, and investment allocation from 1990 through 2010. Controlling for earnings, job changes, and other household factors, we show that 401(k) participation and contributions decline during recessions. The Great Recession could lower the 401(k) assets of the typical 30-year-old by as much as 9 percent at age 62.

Automatic Enrollment, Employee Compensation, and Retirement Security

by Barbara A. Butrica and Nadia S. Karamcheva
SSA Project # BC12-14
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2012-25

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This study uses restricted microdata from the National Compensation Survey to examine the impact of autoenrollment on employee compensation. By boosting plan participation, automatic enrollment likely increases employer costs as previously unenrolled workers receive matching retirement plan contributions. Our data shows significant negative correlation between employer match rates and automatic enrollment provision. We find no evidence that total costs differ between firms with and without automatic enrollment, and no evidence that DC costs crowd out other forms of compensation—suggesting that firms might be lowering their potential and/or default match rates enough to completely offset the higher costs of automatic enrollment without needing to reduce other compensation costs.

Barriers to Later Retirement: Increases in the Full Retirement Age, Age Discrimination, and the Physical Challenges of Work

by David Neumark and Joanne Song
SSA Project # UM12-07
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2012-265

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Policy changes intended to delay retirements of older workers and extend their work lives may run up against demand-side barriers from age discrimination, and supply-side barriers owing to rising physical challenges of work as people age. We study three questions. How do age discrimination protections affect labor market transitions of workers encouraged to work longer by increases in Social Security's Full Retirement Age (FRA)? How do physical challenges at work influence employment transitions of older workers for whom public policy is trying to delay retirement? And what role do stronger age discrimination protections play in helping workers facing physical challenges at work?
We find that stronger state age discrimination protections increase employment and hiring for older workers caught by increases in the FRA. We also find that physical challenges pose a barrier to extending work lives, although some workers with physically-demanding jobs are able to mitigate these demands—either at new jobs or with the same employer. However, for the most part stronger age discrimination protections do not appear to contribute to older workers' ability to mitigate physical challenges at work.

Changing Sources of Income Among the Aged Population

by Barry Bosworth and Kathleen Burke
SSA Project # BC12-12
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2012-27

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This paper focuses on an explanation for the large shift over the past two decades in the composition of the income of the aged (65+), increasing the role of earned income and reducing the importance of income from their own assets. We find that the pattern of change is consistently reported in all of the major household surveys. The increase in the importance of labor income can be attributed to delayed exit from the labor force by workers at older ages. We attribute the increase in work time to a rise in the proportion of more educated workers who choose to continue working, changes within the pension system that previously encouraged early retirement, and a decline in the availability of retiree health insurance. The increase in work time is concentrated among the highest income groups and those with the most education, suggesting that it is largely voluntary. The fall in asset income can be traced to lower interest rates and a reduced propensity for the aged to convert their wealth to annuities. It does not reflect reduced wealth at older ages. A measure of the annuity equivalent of their wealth holdings suggests that there has been no decline for aged units. We also find only a weak relationship between changes in asset income and the decision to remain in the workforce.

Employee Mobility and Employer-Provided Retirement Plans

by Gopi Shah Goda, Damon Jones, and Colleen Manchester
SSA Project # BC11-S4
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2012-28

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This paper provides new insights on the effect of the widespread transition from defined benefit (DB) to a defined contribution (DC) pension plans on employee mobility. Pension plans may affect employee mobility both through an "incentive effect," where the bundle of benefit characteristics, such a vesting rules, relative liquidity and risk/return tradeoff affect turnover directly, and a "selection effect," where employees with different underlying mobility tendencies select into firms with different types of pension plans. In this paper, we quantify the role of selection by exploiting a natural experiment at a single employer in which an employee's probability of transitioning from a DB to a DC plan was exogenously affected by the default provisions of the transition. Using a differences-in-regression-discontinuities (DRD) estimator, we find evidence that employees with higher mobility tendencies self-select into the DC plan. Furthermore, we find a negative direct effect of DC enrollment on turnover that takes place within one year. Our results suggest that selection likely contributes to an observed positive relationship between the transition from DB to DC plans and employee mobility in settings where employees choose plans or employers.

The Great Recession, Older Workers with Disabilities, and Implications for Retirement Security

by Onur Altindag, Lucie Schmidt, and Purvi Sevak
SSA Project # UM12-21
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2012-277

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Evidence suggests that older workers with disabilities have been hit particularly hard by the recent recession. The increased difficulty in finding a job faced by individuals with disabilities, combined with the longer spells of unemployment experienced by all workers in this recession, could mean that laid-off disabled workers in their pre-retirement years may never return to work. In this paper, we use data from the 2004–2010 waves of the Health and Retirement Study to examine how the great recession has affected workers with chronic health conditions that put them at greater risk of disability. Our results suggest that increases in job losses were 30% greater for those with greater underlying risk of disability than for the general HRS population, and decreases in consumption were 20% greater. These results have important implications for the well-being of disabled individuals nearing retirement.

Holding Out or Opting Out? Deciding Between Retirement and Disability Applications in Recessions

by Matthew S. Rutledge
SSA Project # BC12-19
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2012-26

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Workers over age 55 with chronic health conditions must choose between applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits or continuing to work until their Social Security retirement benefits become available. Previous research has investigated the influence of macroeconomic conditions on disability application and, separately, on retirement claiming. This project uses data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation Gold Standard File to determine whether there is a relationship between national and state unemployment rates and disability applications, taking into account the current or future receipt of Social Security retirement benefits. First, reduced-form estimates indicate that retirement beneficiaries are more likely to apply for SSDI as unemployment increases—and, conversely, eligible individuals who have not yet claimed benefits are less likely to apply when unemployment rises. But after accounting for unobserved characteristics associated with both the decision to apply for disability insurance and Social Security benefits, individuals are no more likely to apply for disability benefits when unemployment is high. Second, we find that the probability of SSDI application among individuals age 55–61 is unrelated to macroeconomic conditions and unrelated to proximity to one's 62nd birthday. These results suggest that, unlike prime-age adults, the decision among older individuals to apply for disability is based primarily on health, and not financial incentives.

The Interplay of Wealth, Retirement Decisions, Policy and Economic Shocks

by John Karl Scholz and Ananth Seshadri
SSA Project # UM12-09
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2012-271

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We develop a model of health investments and consumption over the life cycle where health affects longevity, provides flow utility, and retirement is endogenous. We develop a rich, numerical life-cycle model to study the complex interrelationship between health and wealth and the age of retirement. The decision to retire depends on a number of factors including earnings and health shocks, demographic characteristics, preferences, pensions, and social security. We incorporate these features in a computational model of optimal wealth and retirement decisions, solving the model household-by-household using data from the HRS. We use the model to study how workers would respond to an increase in the early eligibility age of retirement (EEA), and to what extent will the bad economy alter retirement plans. We find that increasing the EEA results in sizeable responses to the age of retirement but does not affect health outcomes very much. A 20 percent reduction in wealth induces households to delay retirement by one year, on average, with poor households being relatively unaffected.

Investment Decisions in Retirement: The Role of Subjective Expectations

by Marco Angrisani, Michael D. Hurd, and Erik Meijer
SSA Project # UM12-13
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2012-274

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The rapid transition from defined benefit (DB) pension plans to defined contribution (DC) plans has a potential benefit of offering pension holders greater control over how their pension accumulations are invested. If pension holders are willing to take some risk, investments in the stock market could increase their economic preparation for retirement, and, indeed, economic theory as well as the typical advice of financial advisors calls for stock market investments. Yet, the rate of stock holding is much below what theory suggests it should be, undoing any benefit associated with the greater control coming from DC plans. The leading explanations for this under-investing include excessive risk aversion, costs of entry, and misperceptions about possible returns in the stock market. We show that excessive risk aversion is not able to account for the low fraction of stock holding. However, a model with heterogeneous subjective expectations about stock market returns is able to account for low stock market participation, and tracks the share of risky assets conditional on participation reasonably well. Based on the model with subjective expectations, we estimate a welfare loss of up to 12% compared to investment under rational expectations, if actual returns follow the same distribution as in the past 50 years. The policy implication is that there is considerable scope for welfare improvement as a result of consumer education regarding stock market returns. However, the welfare loss is much smaller if individuals are not very risk averse or if actual returns follow the same distribution as in the past 10 years.

Mismeasurement of Pensions Before and After Retirement: The Mystery of the Disappearing Pensions with Implications for the Importance of Social Security as a Source of Retirement Support

by Alan L. Gustman, Thomas L. Steinmeier, and Nahid Tabatabai
SSA Project # UM12-10
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2012-268

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A review of the literature suggests that when pension values are measured by the wealth equivalent of promised DB pension benefits and DC balances for those approaching retirement, pensions account for more support in retirement than is suggested when their contribution is measured by incomes received directly from pension plans by those who have already retired. Estimates from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) for respondents in their early fifties suggest that pension wealth is about 86 percent as valuable as Social Security wealth. In data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), for members of the same cohort, measured when they are 65 to 69, pension incomes are about 56 percent as valuable as incomes from Social Security. Our empirical analysis uses data from the Health and Retirement Study to examine the reasons for these differences in the contributions of pensions as measured in income and wealth data.
A number of factors cause the contribution of pensions to be understated in retirement income data, especially data from the CPS. One factor is a difference in methodology between surveys affecting what is included in pension income, especially in the CPS, which ignores irregular payments from pensions. In CPS data on incomes of those ages 64 to 69 in 2006, pension values are 59 percent of the value of Social Security. For the same cohort, in HRS data, the pension value is 67 percent of the value of Social Security benefits. Some pension wealth "disappears" at retirement because respondents change their pension into other forms that are not counted as pension income in surveys of income. Altogether, 16 percent of pension wealth is transformed into some other form at the time of disposition. For those who had a defined benefit pension just before termination, the dominant plan type for current retirees, at termination 12 percent of the benefit was transformed into a state that would not count as pension income after retirement. For those who receive benefits soon after termination, there is a 3.5 percent reduction in DB pension value at termination compared to the year before termination. One reason may be the form of annuitization that is chosen. A series of caveats notwithstanding, the bottom line is that CPS data on pension incomes received in retirement understates the full contribution pensions make to supporting retirees.

Motives for Bequests within the Middle Class

by John Laitner and Amanda Sonnega
SSA Project # UM12-05
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2012-275

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The life-cycle model of household behavior forms the basis for most economic analysis of Social Security, private pensions, and retirement. This project seeks to extend the usefulness of the life-cycle model by considering the role of middle-class inheritances and bequests. We use HRS data. Prior work by the authors identifies key information in the HRS on the sources of private intergenerational transfers, and it shows that the frequency of couples' inheritances from both spouses' family lines is higher than random behavior would imply. Using additional HRS data on the ratio of parent-to-child lifetime incomes, we analyze the motives behind HRS bequests. We find support for an unintentional transfer model in which bequests arise from residual, unspent parent life-cycle resources. And, we show that our model can account for the frequency of dual inheritances that earlier work revealed.

Tax Elasticity of Labor Earnings for Older Individuals

by Abby Alpert and David Powell
SSA Project # UM12-02
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2012-272

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Taxes impact individual labor supply decisions. A vast literature studies the ramifications of income taxes on hours worked, occupational choice, and labor force participation for the working age population. There is little work, however, on the tax responsiveness of labor supply decisions for older individuals. We have little evidence about the importance of income and payroll taxes on the labor supply of this population. However, this is a group that is potentially very responsive to the incentives generated by the tax schedule. Our work fills a major gap in the literature by studying the effect that taxes have on both the intensive and extensive labor supply decisions of older workers. We use longitudinal data and legislative tax changes to understand the impact that taxes can have on the labor supply decisions of older workers. Studying workers ages 55–74, we find that increases in the marginal tax rate are associated with reductions in labor earnings for women. Our strongest results show that both men and women respond to tax-driven changes in after-tax labor income. More generous tax schedules lead to statistically significant and economically meaningful changes in the fraction of people working, and we find similar effects for both men and women. Our analysis also estimates that taxes have significant effects on the retirement behavior of men, but we find less evidence that it affects women on this dimension. Overall, our research finds strong evidence that tax policy impacts the labor supply decisions of older workers.

October 2012

Exchanging Delayed Social Security Benefits for Lump Sums: Could This Incentivize Longer Work Careers?

by Jing Jing Chai, Raimond H. Maurer, Olivia S. Mitchell, and Ralph Rogalla
SSA Project # UM12-08
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2012-266

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Social Security benefits are currently provided as a lifelong benefit stream, though some workers would be willing to trade a portion of their annuity streams in exchange for a lump sum amount. This paper explores whether allowing people to receive a lump sum as a payment for delayed retirement rather than as an addition to their lifetime Social Security benefits might induce them to work longer. We model the factors that influence how people trade off a Social Security stream for a lump sum, and we also examine the consequences of such tradeoffs for work, retirement, and life cycle wellbeing. Our base case indicates that workers given the chance to receive their delayed retirement credit as a lump sum payment would boost their average retirement age by 1.5–2 years. This will interest policymakers seeking to reform the Social Security system without raising costs or cutting benefits, while enhancing the incentives to delay retirement.

Retirement in Japan and the United States: Cross-national Comparisons using the Japanese Study of Aging and Retirement (JSTAR) and the U.S. Health and Retirement Study (HRS)

by Olivia S. Mitchell and John W.R. Phillips
SSA Project # UM12-22
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2012-270

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Cross-national comparisons of data from developed countries offer useful insights into the retirement process and policy. Here we summarize findings for older persons age 50–70 using new microdata files collected by the Japanese Study of Aging and Retirement (JSTAR) project, and we compare these with results in the U.S. Health and Retirement Study (HRS). We examine the relative importance of health, wealth, family, and other factors in work and retirement at older ages cross-nationally. Though both countries have relatively high employment at older ages, the Japanese have longer life expectancy, higher levels of financial wealth, and a lower public pension eligibility age. Our analysis, the first to compare these two rich data sources, suggests two conclusions (subject to revision when data weights become available). First, older Americans differ in key ways from their Japanese counterparts, particularly along educational, health, and wealth dimensions. Second, in some cases, there is a distinctly different impact of these factors on labor force outcomes. Specifically, age, sex, education, and wealth influence behavior differently across the two countries, though being obese or having better mental acuity/financial literacy scores has no differential impact. Thus observed differences in work patterns between Americans and Japanese at older ages are attributable to some identifiable factors; moreover, the results can be used to project future responses to changes in education, age, health, and wealth in order to account for the large differences in older workers' work patterns at older ages in Japan and the US. As stated, all results are subject to revision when the data weights become available.

September 2012

Active vs. Passive Decisions and Crowd-Out in Retirement Savings Accounts: Evidence from Denmark

by Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman, Soren Leth-Petersen, and Torben Nielsen
SSA Project # NB12-04 • International Research
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Do retirement savings policies (such as tax subsidies or employer-provided pension plans) increase total saving for retirement or simply induce shifting across accounts? We revisit this classic question using a panel dataset with 50 million observations on savings for the population of Denmark. We find that a policy's impact on total savings depends critically on whether it changes savings rates by active or passive choice. Policies such as tax subsidies that rely upon individuals to take an action to raise savings have small impacts on total wealth. In contrast, policies that raise savings automatically even if individuals take no action (such as employer-provided pensions or automatic contributions to retirement accounts) increase wealth accumulation substantially. Intuitively, price subsidies only affect the behavior of active savers who optimize their portfolios with respect to policy, whereas automatic contributions increase savings of passive individuals who do not reoptimize. We estimate that approximately 85% of individuals are passive savers. The 15% of active savers who respond to price subsidies do so by reallocating savings across accounts. Overall, our results imply that automatic contributions may be more effective at increasing total retirement savings than price subsidies for two reasons: (1) subsidies induce relatively few individuals to respond, and (2) they generate substantial crowdout conditional on response.

Assessing Systematic Differences in Industry-Award Rates of Social Security Disability Insurance

by Till von Wachter
SSA Project # NB12-13
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Although a large body of literature has examined the role of worker incentives and characteristics for explaining high and rising Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) rolls, little is known about the role of firms and industries. Yet, firms face potentially important incentives to exploit social insurance systems, as explicitly recognized in the design of Unemployment Insurance, and may have substantially different work environments. In this project, we characterize differences in SSDI award rates by industry using the March Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS allows us to construct multiple measures of SSDI receipt, use a longitudinal match to construct new SSDI awards, and to adjust industry-specific SSDI award rates for differences in worker characteristics, such as educational background, family status and occupation. Our findings indicate substantial differences in the average rates of new SSDI awards across industries that are robust to important differences in worker composition.

The Decision to Delay Social Security Benefits: Theory and Evidence

by John B. Shoven and Sita Nataraj Slavov
SSA Project # NB12-09
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Social Security benefits may be commenced at any time between age 62 and age 70. As individuals who claim later can, on average, expect to receive benefits for a shorter period, an actuarial adjustment is made to the monthly benefit amount to reflect the age at which benefits are claimed. We investigate the actuarial fairness of this adjustment. Our simulations suggest that delaying is actuarially advantageous for a large subset of people, particularly for real interest rates of 3.5 percent or below. The gains from delaying are greater at lower interest rates, for married couples relative to singles, for single women relative to single men, and for two-earner couples relative to one-earner couples. In a two-earner couple, the gains from deferring the primary earner's benefit are greater than the gains from deferring the secondary earner's benefit. We then use panel data from the Health and Retirement Study to investigate whether individuals' actual claiming behavior appears to be influenced by the degree of actuarial advantage to delaying. We find no evidence of a consistent relationship between claiming behavior and factors that influence the actuarial advantage of delay, including gender and marital status, interest rates, subjective discount rates, or subjective assessments of life expectancy.

The Demand for Annuities with Stochastic Mortality Probabilities

by Felix Reichling and Kent Smetters
SSA Project # NB12-10
National Bureau of Economic Research

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The conventional wisdom dating back to Yaari (1965) is that households without a bequest motive should fully annuitize their assets. Various market frictions do not break this sharp result result. This paper demonstrates that incomplete annuitization can be optimal in the presence of stochastic mortality probabilities, even without any liquidity constraints. Moreover, stochastic mortality probabilities are a mechanism for various other market frictions to further reduce annuity demand. Simulation evidence is presented using a calibrated lifecycle dynamic programming model. Implications for Social Security are discussed.

Growth in Health Consumption and its Implications for Financing OASDI: An International Perspective

by Barry P. Bosworth and Gary Burtless
SSA Project # BC12-08 • International Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2012-21

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The rising cost of U.S. health care has reduced the share of compensation that is taxable by Social Security. Between 1960 and 2010 non-taxable employer premiums for worker health plans increased from 1 percent to 7 percent of employee compensation. We use international data to examine the determinants of trends in health care spending and the reasons that the U.S. experience has differed from that of other high-income countries. In 2010 the share of U.S. GDP devoted to health care was 7.2 percentage points higher than the share in other rich countries. We document the growth of this gap in the past 5 decades. Much of it developed between 1980 and the mid-1990s, though we also find another episode of out-size growth in the early 2000s. We identify six countries, including most of Scandinavia, that have seen a slowdown in health spending growth. These were also countries that had higher-than-expected health spendin! g, given their average incomes, in the 1960s and 1970s. The slowdown in their health expenditure growth may simply reflect a reversion of their spending toward the OECD mean. We find no mean reversion in U.S. health spending growth. Our review of other literature suggests that the current excess in U.S. health costs is mainly traceable to higher prices for health care goods and services. Compared with other OECD countries, the U.S. has been slow to develop institutions or global budget constraints that restrain the pace of health cost growth.

Health Difficulties in the Elderly Immigrant Population

by George J. Borjas
SSA Project # NB12-03
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This paper uses data drawn from the 2001–2010 American Community Surveys to examine the trends in the prevalence of health difficulties among elderly immigrants and natives. The analysis isolates a variable that contributes significantly to variation in health difficulties within the immigrant population: the age at which immigrants enter the United States. Remarkably, nearly a third of the foreign-born persons aged 50 or more arrived in the United States after age 50. The analysis shows that immigrants who enter the country at an older age are much more likely to experience health difficulties than either natives or than immigrants who migrated at a younger age, and that the aging process leads to a much more rapid deterioration of health conditions for these "late entrants." Despite their rapidly worsening health conditions, the labor force participation rate tends to be stable, suggesting that the labor supply of immigrants who enter the country after age 50 seems to be quite inelastic. The continuing increase in the number of elderly immigrants, and particularly of immigrants who enter the country at relatively older ages, suggests that the study of the health difficulties encountered by this population is likely to provide important insights into the determinants of labor supply of this population, the timing of the retirement decision, the size (and sources) of the income flow received by these immigrants, and the funding of the Social Security system and related programs (on both the revenue and expenditure sides).

The Impact of a Roth Option on Outcomes in Employer-Sponsored Savings Plans

by John Beshears, James J. Choi, David Laibson, and Brigitte C. Madrian
SSA Project # NB12-06
National Bureau of Economic Research

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We estimate the effect of introducing a Roth option to an employer-sponsored savings plan using administrative plan data from nine companies that added a Roth option between 2006 and 2008. We find mixed evidence on whether contribution rates fall after a Roth introduction, which means that the amount of after-tax retirement consumption being purchased by 401(k) contributions may increase. There is suggestive evidence that when choosing the composition of their own contributions, employees contributing above the employer match threshold ignore the fact that matching contributions are entirely before-tax. Conditional on plan participation, Roth participation is highest among young, low-income employees.

The Impact of Risk and the Financial Crisis on Perceptions of Privatized Social Security and Retirement Planning

by James Choi, Justine Hastings, and Unika Shrestha
SSA Project # NB12-07 • International Research
National Bureau of Economic Research

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How do investors from broad backgrounds understand investment risk? How does exposure to negative shocks impact their valuation of risk, their valuation of social security, and their retirement knowledge and planning? We use a new household survey in Mexico's privatized social security system linked to administrative records form the privatized Mexican Social Security System to examine these questions. Using policy-induced exogenous shocks to investment returns around the financial crisis and a representative 7,800 person household survey data set linked to administrative data we will estimate how negative returns to social security accounts affect knowledge of social security system rules, risk preferences, value of the social security account and plans for retirement. We find some evidence that low or negative returns cause increased financial knowledge among men, and that high returns increase reliance on and value of the retirement account and financial instruments more generally among women. Our results contribute new insights into how individuals understand and learn about investment risk and plan for retirement with personal ownership over retirement accounts.

The Importance of Private and Government Safety Nets: A Comparison of Approved and Denied SSDI Applicants

by Kathleen McGarry and Jonathan Skinner
SSA Project # NB12-14
National Bureau of Economic Research

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In this paper we examine the financial and health status of applicants to the SSDI/SSI programs at age 65 as they transition to old age benefits. Our goal is to understand how prior disability affects outcomes later in life and to what degree benefits from SSDI/SSI protect individuals at older ages by replacing lost income and providing health care coverage. We compare outcomes for those who received SSDI/SSI benefits and those whose applications were denied with outcomes among those who never applied for benefits and who thus serve as our baseline group. Our analyses look specifically at income, wealth, and health status across groups. Our results suggest that among those living to age 65, those who applied for SSDI/SSI benefits and had their applications denied, fared as poorly (if not more so) in old age as those deemed eligible for disability benefits. The after-age-65 income and asset levels of those accepted and denied from SSDI/SSI are nearly identical, and far below the levels of those who never applied for benefits. We also find similar health outcomes for the two groups, measured as visits to a doctor, nights in a hospital, and eventual mortality. Whether these adverse effects reflect selection into the process of just applying for SSDI or SSI, or whether there are causal adverse effects of these programs is an important question for continuing research.

Intergenerational Risk Sharing and the Effects of Social Security Reforms

by Lee Lockwood and Day Manoli
SSA Project # NB12-17 • International Research
National Bureau of Economic Research

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With increasing pressure for social security reform in many countries, it is important to understand the extent to which families share risk across generations in an effort to offset the effects social security reforms. In particular, understanding the degree of this intergenerational risk sharing is critical for evaluating the distributional consequences of potential social security reforms that reduce benefits of future retirees. We address this topic using data from the Bank of Italy's Survey of Household Income and Wealth and variation from multiple pension reforms in Italy that reduced social security wealth of young workers while leaving benefits for existing retirees largely unchanged. The results indicate relatively little intergenerational risk sharing, though the empirical analysis is confounded by other adverse macroeconomic events and policy changes in the 1990s that may have differentially affected younger and older individuals. Further research on changes in specific intergenerational risk sharing mechanisms following social security reforms may yield valuable policy-relevant insights.

Means-Testing Federal Health Entitlement Benefits

by Andrew A. Samwick
SSA Project # NB12-16
National Bureau of Economic Research

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In recent years, federal legislation has linked the price paid for health insurance benefits to measures of current income. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, individuals and families with income as high as 400% of the federal poverty level are eligible for subsidies that limit their health insurance premiums to no more than 9.5% of their income. Under the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, higher-income beneficiaries face income-related premiums over three times the standard premium for Part B coverage. For workers at or near retirement age, means-testing based on current income provides an incentive for early retirement, dissaving, and income manipulation, raising concerns about the efficiency of such means-testing. Further, current income is subject to short-term fluctuations, making it a noisy predictor of ability to pay. Using the Health and Retirement Study and linked Social Security earnings histories, it is shown that a measure of lifetime income compares favorably to current income as a basis for means-testing. It offers less short-term variation in premiums while improving incentives for pre-retirement work and saving.

Moral Hazard in Health Insurance: How Important is Forward Looking Behavior?

by Aviva Aron-Dine, Liran Einav, Amy Finkelstein, and Mark Cullen
SSA Project # NB12-15
National Bureau of Economic Research

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We investigate whether individuals exhibit forward looking behavior in their response to the non-linear pricing common in health insurance contracts. Our empirical strategy exploits the fact that employees who join an employer-provided health insurance plan later in the calendar year face the same initial (?spot?) price of medical care but a higher expected end-of-year (?future?) price than employees who join the same plan earlier in the year. Our results reject the null of completely myopic behavior; medical utilization appears to respond to the future price, with a statistically significant elasticity of medical utilization with respect to the future price of -0.4 to -0.6. To try to quantify the extent of forward looking behavior, we develop a stylized dynamic model of individual behavior and calibrate it using our estimated behavioral response and additional data from the RAND Health Insurance Experiment. Our calibration suggests that the elasticity estimate may be substantially smaller than the one implied by fully forward-looking behavior, yet it is sufficiently high to have an economically signi?cant effect on the response of annual medical utilization to a non-linear health insurance contract. Overall, our results point to the empirical importance of accounting for dynamic incentives in analyses of the impact of health insurance on medical utilization.

The Nexus of Social Security Benefits, Health, and Wealth at Death

by James Poterba, Steven Venti, and David A. Wise
SSA Project # NB12-08
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Social Security benefits are the most important component of the income of a large fraction of older Americans. A significant fraction of persons approach the end of life with no financial assets, no home equity, and rely almost entirely on Social Security benefits for support. Whether persons reach late-life with positive non-annuity wealth depends importantly on health. Poor health is very persistent over a life-time. Persons in poor health at old age have a higher than average probability of having experienced low earnings while in the labor force, and thus also having low Social Security benefits in retirement. The progressivity of the Social Security benefit formula helps to provide a safety net to support low-wage workers in retirement. Still, a noticeable fraction of persons, especially those in single-person households, have income below the poverty level in their last years of life and have no assets to draw on to supplement their income. The members of this group are also disproportionately in poor health. In general, low assets and low income in old age are strongly related to poor health. We explore this nexus and, in particular, try help to understand the relationship between Social Security benefits and the exhaustion of non-annuity assets near the end of life. We seek to determine how the drawdown of assets between 1995, the first year of the AHEAD data, and the year last observed before death depends on health and on Social Security and other annuity benefits. We conclude that Social Security and defined benefit pension benefits are strongly "protective" of non-annuity assets and that poor health is an important determinant of the drawdown of non-annuity wealth.

Projecting the Effect of Changes in Smoking and Obesity on Future Life Expectancy in the United States

by Samuel H. Preston, Andrew Stokes, Neil Mehta, and Bochen Cao
SSA Project # NB12-01
National Bureau of Economic Research

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We project the effects of declining smoking and increasing obesity on mortality in the United States over the period 2010–2040. Data on cohort behavioral histories are integrated into these projections. Future distributions of body mass indices are projected using transition matrices applied to the initial distribution in 2010. In addition to projections of current obesity, we project distributions of obesity when cohorts were age 25. To these distributions we apply death rates by current and age-25 obesity status observed in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988–2006. Projections of the effects of smoking are based on observed relations between cohort smoking patterns and cohort death rates from lung cancer. We find that both changes in smoking and in obesity are expected to have large effects on mortality. For males, the reductions in smoking have larger effects than the rise in obesity throughout the projection period. By 2040, male life expectancy at age 40 is expected to have gained 0.92 years from the combined effects. Among women, however, the two sets of effects largely offset one another throughout the projection period, with a small gain of 0.26 years expected by 2040.

Recessions, Older Workers, and Longevity: How Long are Recessions Good For Your Health?

by Courtney C. Coile, Phillip B. Levine, and Robin McKnight
SSA Project # NB12-19
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This paper examines the impact of exposure to higher unemployment rates in the pre-retirement years on subsequent mortality. Although past research has found that recessions reduce contemporaneous mortality, these short-term effects may reverse over time, particularly for older workers. If workers experience an economic downturn in their late 50s, they may face several years of reduced employment and earnings before "retiring" when they reach Social Security eligibility at age 62. They also may experience lost health insurance, and therefore higher financial barriers to health care, through age 65, when Medicare becomes available. All of these experiences could contribute to weaker long-term health outcomes. To examine these hypotheses, we use Vital Statistics mortality data between 1969 and 2008 to generate agespecific cohort survival probabilities at older ages. We then link these survival probabilities to labor market conditions at earlier ages. We also use data from the 1980–2010 March Current Population Surveys and the 1991 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys to explore potential mechanisms for this health effect. Our results indicate that experiencing a recession in one's late 50s leads to a reduction in longevity. We also find that this exposure leads to several years of reduced employment, health insurance coverage, and health care utilization which may contribute to the lower long-term likelihood of survival.

Unemployment and Disability: Evidence from the Great Recession

by David M. Cutler, Ellen Meara, and Seth Richards-Shubik
SSA Project # NB12-12
National Bureau of Economic Research

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It is well known that disability insurance (DI) enrollment is countercyclical. But less is known about why DI is countercyclical. Understanding this point is crucial given the rapid rise in DI caseloads in recent decades combined with the widely publicized forecast that the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund will be exhausted by 2016. However, no systematic evidence describes how or why caseloads have changed during the Great Recession. In this paper, we compare DI applications and awards during the great recession to other recent recessions. We find that changes in the caseload from 2007 to 2010 are not unique compared with other recessions. We then use individual data on older U.S. workers from the Health and Retirement Study to analyze two hypotheses for why DI applications rise during recessions. Based on research suggesting that job loss and recessions more broadly have deleterious effects on health, we test whether the number and/or severity of health shocks during recessions can explain elevated DI application rates. Second, we test whether changes in the opportunity costs of applying for DI can explain higher DI application rates during recessions. Although we find evidence that severity of health shocks and measures of the opportunity cost of DI application predict DI application among older workers, we find no support for either the health shocks or opportunity cost hypothesis. Alternative explanations for the countercyclicality of DI applications are required to describe recent recessions, including the Great Recession.

Vocational Rehabilitation on the Road to Social Security Disability: Longitudinal Statistics from Matched Administrative Data

by David Stapleton and Frank H. Martin
SSA Project # UM11-03
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2012-269

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Vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies can potentially help disability-insured workers stay at work or return to work when they experience the onset of a disabling physical or mental condition. Such assistance could prevent or delay their exit from the labor force and entry into the Social Security disability (SSD) rolls. This study presents new descriptive information on the extent to which VR applicants receive SSD benefits before or after VR application. The analyses show that substantial numbers of VR applicants entered SSD in the 60 months following VR application—more than 50,000 (11.3 percent) of the first-time VR applicants in 2003. SSD entry varies with VR applicant characteristics; those with relatively high SSD entry include non-Hispanic whites, those not employed at application, those with more than a high school education, and especially those already in SSI but not SSD. There is also wide variation in SSD entry across states, with some states having entry percentages twice as high as others. We also found a positive relationship between our measure of wait time and entry into SSD, and we discuss strategies to estimate the causal effect of wait time on SSD entry—an effect that could theoretically be in either direction. Although the large number of VR applicants entering SSD after VR application is modest compared to the number receiving an SSD award each year, the impact that VR services have on later SSD and Medicare expenditures could be in the billions of dollars annually, in either direction.

What Makes Annuitization More Appealing?

by John Beshears, James J. Choi, David Laibson, Brigitte C. Madrian, and Stephen P. Zeldes
SSA Project # NB12-11
National Bureau of Economic Research

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We conduct and analyze two large surveys of hypothetical annuitization choices. We find that allowing individuals to annuitize a fraction of their wealth increases annuitization relative to a situation where annuitization is an "all or nothing" decision. Very few respondents choose declining real payout streams over flat or increasing real payout streams of equivalent expected present value. Highlighting the effects of inflation increases demand for cost of living adjustments. Frames that focus on flexibility, control, and investment risk significantly reduce annuitization. A majority of respondents prefer to receive an extra "bonus" payment during one month of the year that is funded by slightly lower payments in the remaining months. Concerns about later-life income, spending flexibility, and counterparty risk are the most important self-reported motives that influence the annuitization decision, whereas the bequest motive is reported to have little influence on this decision.

Workplace Characteristics and Employment of Older Workers

by Chinhui Juhn and Kristin McCue
SSA Project # NB12-18
National Bureau of Economic Research

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As aging of the U.S. population places increased demands on public programs such as Social Security, an important question is how long older Americans are willing and able to work before they retire from the labor force. While studies based on household surveys have provided information on the role of savings, health status, pension and health insurance coverage, there is relatively little information on how workplace and firm level characteristics affect the employment of older workers. In this study we use linked employer-employee data to explore the relationship between the characteristics of jobs held at age 55 and early retirement. We focus on a sample of 63-year-olds drawn from the 2005–2008 American Community Survey. We match this sample to information on their earnings, employment, employers and coworkers drawn from the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics data for the years in which they age from 55 to 63. We use employment status as reported in the ACS to split the sample into those those who have retired by age 63 and those who continue to work. We then examine differences between early retirees and continuing workers in the characteristics of their employment at age 55, and at how these characteristics change as they approach age 63. We find that early retirees are more likely to be employed by larger employers at age 55 than are continuers. They work for employers with somewhat higher pay than do continuers, and are less likely to have young coworkers.

August 2012

The Role of Social Security Benefits in the Asset Cost of Poor Health

by James Poterba, Steven Venti, and David A. Wise
SSA Project # NB11-03
National Bureau of Economic Research

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The key aim of the paper is to understand the relationship between the Social Security benefits and the decline in assets associated with poor health. In a prior paper we calculated this "asset cost" of poor health, finding that the postretirement evolution of assets was much greater for persons in good health than for those in poor health and the "asset cost" was much greater than out-of-pocket medical expenditures would suggest. We now extend our earlier analysis to understand how Social Security benefits affects the spend-down of assets. One innovation of this analysis is a new health index that is based on detailed health information from all five cohorts that are part of the Health and Retirement Study. We use this index to explore in some detail the progression of health with age and emphasize in particular the persistence of individual health status. We also re-estimate the asset cost of poor health based on the new index and find that the estimates are quite consistent with our prior estimates. Finally, we estimate the relationship between annuity income (including Social Security benefits) and the evolution of assets based on estimates of the change in assets from one wave to the next. We find that, controlling for health status, a $10,000 increase in Social Security benefits would increase the change in assets from one wave to the next by between $4,120 and $10,690.

Behavioral Effects of Social Security Policies on Benefit Claiming, Retirement and Saving

by Alan L. Gustman and Thomas L. Steinmeier
SSA Project # UM12-04
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2012-263

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This paper specifies three behavioral variants of a structural model of retirement and saving to bring predicted Social Security claiming rates closer to the rates observed in the data. The model, estimated with Health and Retirement Study data, is used to examine three potential policies: increasing early entitlement age, increasing normal retirement age, and eliminating payroll taxes after normal retirement age. Behavioral responses to increasing early entitlement age and eliminating the payroll tax are not affected by the behavioral variant used. Predicted effects of increasing the normal retirement age exhibit more sensitivity. Heterogeneity shapes the responses to these policy changes.

Does Widowhood Explain Gender Differences in Out-of-Pocket Medicaid Spending Among the Elderly?

by Gopi Shah Goda and John B. Shoven
SSA Project # NB11-04
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Despite the presence of Medicare, out-of-pocket medical spending is a large expenditure risk facing the elderly. While women live longer than men, elderly women incur higher out-of-pocket medical spending than men at each age. In this paper, we examine whether differences in marital status and living arrangements can explain this difference. We find that out-of-pocket medical spending is approximately 29 percent higher when an individual becomes widowed, a large portion of which is spending on nursing homes. Our results suggest a substantial role of living arrangements in out-of-pocket medical spending; however, our estimates combined with differences in rates of widowhood across gender suggest that marital status can explain only one third of the gender difference in total out-of-pocket medical spending, leaving a large portion unexplained. On the other hand, gender differences in widowhood more than explain the observed gender difference in out-of-pocket spending on nursing homes.

The Dynamics of Disability: Evidence from a Cohort of Back Pain Patients

by Ellen Meara and Jonathan Skinner
SSA Project # NB11-09
National Bureau of Economic Research

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The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program has been growing rapidly in the past several decades and is projected to run out of money within the decade. In one view, the growth has been generated by the increased generosity of SSDI benefits coupled with sluggish labor markets for lower-educated individuals. In this paper, we develop an alternative model; individuals differ in the extent to which they depreciate their health capital, which in turn can yield higher current wages in some physically demanding jobs. In turn, workers in these jobs end up later in life with poor health and labor market opportunities, and are therefore relatively more likely to apply for SSDI. This model predicts both continued poor health of those applying for SSDI over time, and the critical importance of pain and functioning—rather than just market opportunities—in predicting SSDI applications. We use two data sets, the Health and Retirement Study, and the SPORT randomized clinical trial data on disk herniation (IDH). Among the SPORT patients, nearly everyone is suffering from acute pain at baseline. Over time, a much larger fraction of high school dropouts develop chronic and persistent back pain, which in turn leads to a higher fraction of SSDI applicants. We argue that in a model of endogenous pain and functioning, the design of disability insurance can have a real impact on the health of those workers most likely to apply.

Health Shocks and Disability Transitions Among Near-Elderly Workers

by David M. Cutler, Ellen Meara, and Seth Richards-Shubik
SSA Project # NB11-08
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Between the ages of 50 and 64, 7 percent of full-time workers will have a major adverse health event, such as a heart attack, a stroke, or a new onset of cancer. Evidence shows clearly that the labor force response to health shocks differs systematically across groups. Relative to the 12 percent of full-time workers overall who apply for or receive disability insurance (DI) within 4 years after a health shock, the share is 27 percent among those with less than a high school degree. For blacks, the application or receipt rate is 21 percent. We analyze these issues empirically using 1994–2008 data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). Our paper first presents a simple model of the response to an adverse health shock, emphasizing the importance of health capital and labor supply theories of disability application decisions. We then test the implications of these models regarding differences across demographic groups and the importance of health and labor supply variables as determinants of the DI application decisions. In a sample of older workers, after controlling for the onset of a new major health shock, demographic differences diminish only slightly, but they disappear after controlling further for labor market variables. Among the subset of workers who experience a health shock, we find further evidence that the nature of the health shock and prior health status matters a great deal for the DI application decision, as do labor market related variables. A rich model of health and labor supply factors explains 40 to 60 percent of the variation in DI application. However, health and labor supply variables in our models cannot explain large differences in DI application by education and race.

Spousal Labor Supply Responses to Government Programs: Evidence from the Disability Insurance Program

by Susan E. Chen
SSA Project # UM10-05
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2012-261

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Disability is a permanent unexpected shock to labor supply which according to the theory of the added worker effect should induce a large spousal labor supply response. The Disability Insurance (DI) program is designed to mitigate the income lost due to disability. To the extent that it does this, it can crowd out the spousal labor supply response predicted by the added worker effect theory. Using a unique data that matches administrative data combining worker's earnings histories and disability insurance applications, this study finds that DI crowds out spousal labor force participation by 6 percent and the displacement spans multiple years. The estimated crowd-out effects are also larger for younger wife cohorts and cohorts with particular types of impairments such as musculoskeletal disease.

July 2012

Changes in Labor Force Participation of Older Americans and their Pension Structures: A Policy Perspective

by Frank W. Heiland and Zhe Li
SSA Project # BC11-S2
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2012-18

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We investigate how the shift in the private pension coverage from defined benefit (DB) to defined contribution (DC) retirement plans since the 1980s contributed to the substantial rise in labor force participation of older Americans. We develop a life cycle model of retirement that captures important aspects of private (DB and DC) and public (Social Security Old-Age) pensions. We demonstrate how this novel framework can assist policy makers and researchers in analyzing the complex interrelations of labor supply decisions, retirement behavior, and wealth accumulation. We begin by illustrating important differences in the incentives for labor supply and retirement behavior provided by DB and DC pensions. We show that the timing of the exit from the labor force is closely tied to wealth accrual in DB plans, while wealth accrual in DC plans does not provide similar incentives for the timing of retirement. We then use the model to conduct a cohort-based simulation analysis of labor force participation for the period 1977 to 2010. The results illustrate the potential significance of the rise in employer-sponsored DC pensions in explaining the increase in labor force participation of older Americans. We estimate that, holding the share of individuals with employer-sponsored pensions constant, the shift from DB to DC pension coverage increased the labor force participation rate of workers age 60 to 64 by 4.9 percentage points (1.7 points for ages 65–69). Finally, we show that DC pension holders are more concentrated at the earliest take-up age for Social Security old-age retirement benefits and are less responsive to changes in Social Security retirement age policy than DB pension holders.

Job Demand and Early Retirement

by Sepideh Modrek and Mark R. Cullen
SSA Project # BC11-S1
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2012-19

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Policy initiatives such as increases in the full retirement age implicitly reduce benefits for early retirement. Yet research suggests that those in physically demanding jobs may be particularly adversely affected by such policies. We examine to what extent physical job demand relates to early retirement decisions in a population of aging manufacturing workers. We follow a cohort of approximately 1,500 stably employed male Alcoa employees aged 51–58 in 2001 followed forward to 2008. We use a variety of models to examine whether externally rated physical job demand at middle age is related to early retirement. We also examine whether pension eligibility and payouts induce earlier retirement, especially for those with more physically demanding jobs, while accounting for wage differentials, injury history, and underlying health. Our results suggest that workers whose jobs have high physical demand retire earlier after accounting for the wage differential and health. We also find that the minority of workers who transition to lower demand jobs, due to previous injury or health issues, are less likely to retire early. Finally, while we find evidence that pension eligibility and wealth accumulation induce earlier retirement, there was limited evidence of a difference by job demand.

April 2012

Spousal Labor Market Effects from Government Health Insurance: Evidence from a Veterans Affairs Expansion

by Melissa A. Boyle and Joanna N. Lahey
SSA Project # BC11-17
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2012-16

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Although government expansion of health insurance to older workers leads to labor supply reductions for recipients, there may be spillover effects on the labor supply of affected spouses who are not covered by the programs. In the simplest model, health insurance on the job is paid for in terms of lower compensation on the job. Receiving health insurance exogenous to employment is akin to a positive income shock for the household, causing total household labor supply to drop. However, it is not clear within the household whether this decrease in labor supply will be borne by both spouses or by a specific spouse. We use a mid-1990s expansion of health insurance for U.S. veterans to provide evidence on the effects of expanding health insurance availability on the labor supply of spouses. Using data from the Current Population Survey, we employ a difference-in-differences strategy to compare the labor market behavior of the wives of older male veterans and non-veterans before and after the VA health benefits expansion to test the impact of public health insurance on these spouses. Our findings suggest that although household labor supply may decrease because of the income effect, the more flexible labor supply of wives allows the wife's labor supply to increase, particularly for those with lower education levels.

February 2012

The Changing Causes and Consequences of Not Working Before Age 62

by Barbara A. Butrica and Nadia Karamcheva
SSA Project # BC11-10 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2012-3

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This study considers nonworking older adults and their channels of support before qualifying for Social Security benefits. Using 18 years of data from the HRS, we analyze nonearners' characteristics, including demographics, health status, lifetime labor force attachment, along with the levels and sources of their income and assets. We explore the effects of various factors on the likelihood of being a nonearner and observe the consequences of not working during one's 50s with regard to poverty, age of Social Security claiming, and overall retirement satisfaction. Finally, we analyze how these relationships have changed over time, particularly after the Great Recession.

Economic Consequences of the Great Recession: Evidence from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics

by Barry Bosworth
SSA Project # BC11-09 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2012-4

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The paper uses micro-survey data from successive waves of the Panel Study on Income Dynamics to investigate the distribution of wealth and job losses during the 2007–09 recession for different segments of the population, and the effect of the recession on retirement decisions of older workers. Estimates of wealth loss are constructed for major socioeconomic groups and compared with those of the Survey of Consumer Finances. The panel dimension of the data is used to measure change in the labor force status of workers and to estimate the determinants of the decision to transition from participation in the labor force to retirement. The study concludes that retirement decisions are influenced both by variations in labor market conditions and the value of household wealth, but the labor market exerts a larger impact.

Effects of Employer Health Costs on the Trend and Distribution of Social Security Taxable Wages

by Gary Burtless and Sveta Milusheva
SSA Project # BC11-07 • Macroeconomic Analyses of Social Security
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2012-11

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The increasing cost of employer contributions for employee health insurance reduces the percentage of compensation that is subject to the payroll tax. Rising insurance contributions can also have a more subtle effect on the Social Security tax base because they influence the distribution of money wages. Workers bear most of the burden of employer health contributions through lower money wages. Any change in the average cost and distribution of costs of employer health plans can have an effect on the distribution of wages and the percentage of wages subject to the payroll tax. This paper uses the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) to analyze trends in the cost of employer health contributions and the cross-worker distribution of health contributions. Our analysis shows that the 1996–2008 increase in employer health premiums was faster than overall compensation increases but only slightly faster among workers below the taxable maximum compared with those above the maximum. However, because employer health insurance premiums represent a much higher percentage of compensation below the maximum taxed earnings amount, the effect of health cost trends exerted a disproportionate downward pressure on money wages below the taxable maximum, reducing the percentage of compensation subject to the payroll tax. We simulated the implications of the health reform law on the trend in employer health costs around 2016. We find only slight effects on the fraction of worker compensation that will be subject to Social Security taxes. The higher insurance costs faced by employers who will be required to offer health plans will be approximately offset by lower health costs on the part of employers who will see some insured employees accept subsidized health insurance outside of an employer plan. The main long-term impact of reform on the taxable wage base is likely to be through its effect on the trend in underlying health care costs.

Social Security Claiming: Trends and Business Cycle Effects

by Owen Haaga and Richard W. Johnson
SSA Project # BC11-04 • Social Security and Retirement
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2012-5

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This study examines Social Security claiming behavior, which has important implications for older Americans and the system itself. Retirees may begin collecting benefits as early as age 62, but early claimants receive lower monthly benefits for the rest of their lives. Our data come from Survey of Income and Program Participation files from 1984 to 2009 linked to administrative records on earnings and benefits. The sample is restricted to respondents with 40 quarters of covered employment who did not claim benefits before age 62. Results indicate that early claiming declined over the past decade, after increasing over the previous 10 years. For men, the share claiming at age 62 fell from 55.3 percent in the 1930–34 birth cohort to 46.4 percent in the 1940–44 cohort. Over the same period, the share of women claiming at 62 fell from 59.3 to 49.0 percent. The recent trend toward delayed claiming is evident among all educational groups, not just college graduates. Hazard models show that high unemployment boosts Social Security claiming among men with limited education. A 1 percentage point increase in the state unemployment rate is associated with a 0.4 percentage point increase in the likelihood each month that men who never attended college claim benefits, a relative increase of 6 percent. This estimate implies that the Great Recession increased claiming for men with limited education by about 40 percent. Claiming behavior among women and well-educated men is not significantly correlated with the state unemployment rate, however.

January 2012

The Impact of Temporary Assistance Programs on Disability Rolls and Re-Employment

by Stephen Lindner and Austin Nichols
SSA Project # BC11-15 • Program Interactions
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2012-2

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Workers who lose their job draw from temporary assistance programs in order to buffer their income losses. They are also more likely to apply for Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Whether participating in temporary assistance programs influences the application decision for DI and SSI, however, is largely unknown. We address this question using panels from the Survey of Income and Program Participation matched to administrative records on DI and SSI applications. We distinguish between four temporary insurance programs: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Unemployment Insurance (UI), and Temporary Disability Insurance programs (TDI). For each of these programs, we construct instruments based on state policies in order to address endogeneity concerns. Our results indicate that workers select into temporary assistance and disability programs by income and health status. When controlling for selection bias, we find evidence that increased access to UI benefits reduces applications for DI, while increased access to SNAP benefits increases applications for SSI. These results suggests that (1) applications for DI and SSI are sensitive to participation in temporary assistance programs, (2) the strength of the net effect depends on the overlap between target populations, and (3) the direction of the net effect depends on benefit levels or on institutional and population characteristics.

December 2011

Personality and Response to the Financial Crisis

by Angela Lee Duckworth and David R. Weir
SSA Project # UM11-09 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2011-260

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In a previous study, we found the family of personality traits known as conscientiousness to be associated in cross-sectional analyses with both lifetime earnings and wealth. In this study, we used data from an Internet survey of HRS respondents in the second quarter of 2009 to test whether conscientiousness and other Big Five factors prospectively predicted responses to the financial crisis of 2008/09. In addition, to improve the targeting and design of behavioral interventions for "at-risk" individuals, we examined two specific facets of conscientiousness (i.e., self-control and perseverance) that may be more highly related to these economic outcomes than other facets. Finally, we used data from the Consumption and Activities Mail Survey (CAMS) to examine whether personality is related to the proportion of income saved versus spent. Missing data precluded sufficiently powerful prospective analyses of personality and responses to the financial crisis. Likewise, data on self-control and perseverance from the 2010 experimental module were not sufficient at the time of final reporting to come to definitive conclusions about how these facets relate to economic outcomes. We did find that conscientious adults save more and spend less of their incomes, whereas adults who are higher in openness to experience (e.g., adventurous, sophisticated) save less and spend more of their income. The robust associations between conscientiousness and economic outcomes suggests further investigation of interventions that improve conscientiousness as well as policies that specifically target less conscientious individuals (e.g., default choices for retirement savings).

November 2011

Healthy Life Expectancy: Estimates and Implications for Retirement Age Policy

by David M. Cutler, Ellen Meara, and Seth Richards-Shubik
SSA Project # NB10-11
National Bureau of Economic Research

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The simultaneous growth in longevity and mounting budget deficits in the U.S. have increased interest in raising the age of eligibility for public health and retirement benefits. The consequences of this policy depend on the health of the near elderly, and on the distribution of health by demographic group. We first describe healthy life expectancy at age 62 by sex, race, and education. Healthy life expectancy varies widely within and across gender and race groups, with the best-off groups enjoying nearly 4 more years of healthy life than less well-off groups. We then simulate the capacity to work of near elderly individuals (62–64 year-olds) based on the work, disability, and retirement status of 57–61 year-olds reporting the same level of health. Our estimates indicate that work capacity is substantial. The health status of 62–64 year-olds suggests their labor force participation could rise by over 15 percentage points without access to early Social Security retirement benefits, while disability rates would increase modestly, by 3 percentage points. Still, less advantaged groups such as those without any college education, could experience a rise in disability rates that is twice as large, indicating the uneven burden of changes in the age of eligibility.

How Do Subjective Mortality Beliefs Affect the Value of Social Security and the Optimal Claiming Age?

by Wei Sun and Anthony Webb
SSA Project # BC11-03 • Social Security and Retirement
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-22

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Households that delay claiming Social Security are, in effect, making additional purchases of the Social Security annuity. Theoretical calculations show the delayed claiming is optimal, even for high mortality households. Yet most claim well before the theoretically optimal age. This paper investigates whether subjective mortality beliefs contribute to the prevalence of early claiming. The value of delay depends not only on life expectancy, but also on the degree of uncertainty surrounding the age of death. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, we show that women approaching retirement understate their probabilities of surviving to age 75 by an average of 10 percentage points, whereas men's forecasts are, on average, correct. But both men and women exhibit greater confidence of their ability to forecast their age of death, relative to the predictions of life tables. But these subjective mortality beliefs have little effect on the value of Social Security or the optimal claim age, and cannot explain the prevalence of early claiming. We also find that self-assessed survival probabilities do not predict survival after controlling for health and socio-economic status, indicating a potential for medical underwriting to reduce adverse selection in the annuity market.

How Do Tax-Deferred Savings Accounts Affect Savings Behavior? Evidence from Denmark

by Raj Chetty, John Friedman, Soren Leth-Petersen, and Torben Nielsen
SSA Project # NB10-16
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Tax-deferred savings accounts such as IRAs are the major policy tool for increasing savings in the U.S. Unfortunately, the evidence on the impacts of these accounts on saving is mixed, largely because of the lack of good wealth data on a large population of individuals. In this paper, we use tax data from Denmark that provide accurate measures of wealth for all households in a long panel. We study the impacts of a tax reform in 1999 that significantly altered the tax-advantage of pension contributions on the quantity of pension contributions. In this paper, we demonstrate that this reform had large and statistically significant effects on pension contributions. These results motivate future research to evaluate the aggregate impact of the reform on total savings and wealth accumulation.

Macroeconomic Conditions and Updating of Expectations by Older Americans

by Purvi Sevak and Lucie Schmidt
SSA Project # UM11-13 • Macroeconomic Analyses of Social Security
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2011-259

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We investigate expectation formation, using the 1994–2008 Health and Retirement Study (HRS), merged to a number of variables on local and national macroeconomic conditions. We find that individuals update their expectations about the future economy in response to these macroeconomic conditions. Respondents revised their expected probability of a major depression upward substantially during 2008, the onset of the current economic downturn and on average during the entire survey period when their state's unemployment rate was higher and when average monthly stock prices fell. Increasing stock prices are also associated with a decreased expectation of future stock price increases, which is consistent with beliefs of mean reversion in stock prices. Furthermore, expectations of double digit inflation increase when job gains increase, perhaps reflecting beliefs of a tradeoff between unemployment and inflation. In many cases, we find that college graduates' expectations are more responsive than those of less educated individuals. We also find that macroeconomic conditions are correlated with subjective probabilities of one's future labor supply. House price increases are associated with a decreased expected probability of working past age 62 and higher unemployment is associated with an increased expected probability of working past age 65. The unemployment rate effect is larger for less-educated individuals, while the house price effect is larger for more-educated individuals. This may be because college graduates are less likely to be affected by business cycle fluctuations, and more likely to be homeowners. Together, these results provide strong evidence that expectations are shaped by fluctuations in the macroeconomy.

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 and Diversification of Employer Stock in Defined Contribution Plans

by Gary V. Engelhardt
SSA Project # BC11-08 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-20

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This paper estimates the short-run impact of the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA2006) on holdings of employer stock in defined contribution pension plans. PPA2006 allowed participants in plans with employer stock to diversify their holdings. However, stand-alone ESOPs, i.e., those that do not allow employee elective deferrals or after-tax contributions, were exempt from this provision. Using detailed Form 5500 financial data for stand-alone ESOPs and those that allow employee elective deferrals or after-tax contributions, so-called KSOPs, from 2003-5 (before) and 2007-9 (after) the PPA and a quasi-experimental empirical framework, two primary empirical findings emerge. First, the share of plan assets in company stock fell 7 percentage points for KSOPs, because of the diversification provisions in PPA2006, a substantial decline. There was no change in holdings for stand-alone ESOPs. Second, most of the decline occurred in plans that had between 25–50% of plan assets in employer stock. Nonetheless, in 2009 still two-thirds KSOPs had more than 10% of assets in company stock, the statutory limit for defined benefit pension plans.

Prescription Drug Insurance Coverage, Drug Utilization, and Cost-Related Non-Adherence: Evidence from the Medicare Part D Expansion

by Gary V. Engelhardt
SSA Project # BC11-16 • Program Interactions
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-19

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This paper uses the substantial increase in prescription drug insurance coverage from the adoption of Part D to generate new estimates the impact of coverage on drug utilization and cost-related non-adherence. The analysis uses detailed panel data on the elderly before and after the implementation of Part D drawn from the 2005 and 2007 Prescription Drug Study (PDS), administered as a supplement to the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a large nationally representative survey of Americans aged 50 and older. Fixed effect estimates suggest that gaining coverage results in a 15% increase in utilization. These results are consistent with the lower end of estimates in the literature. Gaining coverage also is associated with a 20–50% reduction in the incidence of cost-related nonadherence. However, even among the uninsured, only a relatively small proportion of drugs (12%) are associated with episodes of cost-related non-adherence. So, these large reductions apply to a small slice of all drugs.

Understanding the Growth in Federal Disability Programs: Who are the Marginal Beneficiaries, and How Much Do They Cost?

by Adele Kirk
SSA Project # BC09-S2
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2012-1

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SSI and SSDI, the two work disability programs administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), have been marked by concerns about target efficiency since their inception. This study uses SSA administrative data linked with National Health Interview Survey data (NHIS) to examine health status, labor force participation at time of NHIS interview, and linked mortality data to examine mortality during the period following NHIS interview. The self-reported health status data present two strong and consistent patterns: denied applicants report being in considerably worse health than non-applicants, and beneficiaries appear to be sicker yet. In logit models among disability beneficiaries, women are significantly less likely to report excellent/very good health, but race has no significant effect. While being female decreased the probability of good health, it has no significant effect on the probability of reporting no work limitation at time of interview among beneficiaries. Although race was not significant in the model of self-reported health, both Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks are significantly more likely to report no work limitation at time of interview. This study has important limitations. NHIS respondents who link to the SSA administrative data may not be representative of all individuals with disability application histories. In addition, individuals must live long enough after disability determination to be drawn into an NHIS sample, and these results reflect the experience of that subsample of disability applicants who do not die during the determination process or soon thereafter.

What Explains State Variation in SSDI Application Rates?

by Norma B. Coe, Kelly Haverstick, Alicia H. Munnell, and Anthony Webb
SSA Project # BC11-12 • Program Interactions
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-23

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Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) applications and receipts vary greatly by state. This paper investigates the extent to which this geographic variation in SSDI applications reflects differences in health, demographics, and employment characteristics, state policies,, and politics. We find that demographic, health, and employment characteristics of the state have the greatest effect on state-level variations in SSDI application rates, explaining over 70 percent of the variation. State policy concerning mandated employer-sponsored disability insurance (also known as temporary disability insurance or TDI) has a small negative effect on overall SSDI applications. This finding supports the principle underlying many recent SSDI reform plans: temporary disability insurance coverage could save the SSDI program considerable funds in the long-run. Further, when we look to explain variation within a state, we find that state changes in health insurance regulation are negatively correlated with the SSDI application rate. This could be an indication that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may have spillovers to the SSDI program.

October 2011

The Effects of the Financial Crisis on Actual and Anticipated Consumption

by Michael D. Hurd and Susann Rohwedder
SSA Project # UM11-10 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2011-255

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As policy makers consider changes to the Social Security and Medicare programs, it is important to know how the economic status of the older population was impacted by the financial crisis and the Great Recession. Because consumption is the best measure of material well-being we estimate the effect of the recession on spending in the older population based on data from the Health and Retirement Study and the Consumption and Activities Mail Survey. Our method is to compare spending change between 2007 and 2009 with spending change over three previous "normal" transitions: 2001–2003, 2003–2005 and 2005–2007. We find that spending declined from 2007 to 2009 by 3.6 to 7.0 percentage points more than would be expected based on the changes from the earlier two-year time periods where the range is due to differing statistical methods. We compared changes in spending by stock owners with changes in spending by nonowners both in the years 2001–2007 and in 2007–2009. We found that owners reduced spending by an additional 3.8 to 6.2 percentage points compared with nonowners over the 2007 to 2009 period. These results are consistent with an effect of stock market losses on spending, but there are other possible contributing factors such as losses of housing equity. Those who became unemployed between 2007 and 2009 reduced spending by about 19%, indicating a lack of complete insurance against unemployment. We conclude that the shocks generated by the Great Recession substantially affected the economic position of the older population as indicated by the reduction in spending.

How Did the Recession of 2007–2009 Affect the Wealth and Retirement of the Near Retirement Age Population in the Health and Retirement Study?

by Alan L. Gustman, Thomas L. Steinmeier, and Nahib J. Tabatabai
SSA Project # UM11-08 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2011-253

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Data from the Health and Retirement Study is used to investigate how the "Great Recession" affected the wealth and retirement of the near retirement population, ages 53 to 58 in 2006. Due to falling house prices, their retirement wealth fell by 2.8 percent between 2006 and 2010. In contrast, in past years members of older cohorts had added 5 percent to their assets over the comparable age span. Cushioned by Social Security, the retirement wealth of poorer households was less affected by the recession. Labor market effects of the Great Recession were more modest. The changes in full-time work and retirement are similar to the changes observed for members of older cohorts at comparable ages.

The Impact of Unemployment Insurance Extensions on Disability Insurance Application and Allowance Rates

by Matthew S. Rutledge
SSA Project # BC11-14 • Program Interactions
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-17

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Both unemployment insurance (UI) extensions and the availability of disability benefits have disincentive effects on job search. But UI extensions can reduce the efficiency cost of disability benefits if UI recipients delay disability application until exhausting their unemployment benefits. This paper investigates whether UI eligibility, extension, and exhaustion affect the timing of disability application and the composition of the applicant pool. Jobless individuals are significantly less likely to apply to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) during UI extensions, and significantly more likely to apply when UI is ultimately exhausted. Healthier potential applicants appear more likely to delay, as state allowance rates increase after a new UI extension. Though simulations find that extensions do not decrease SSDI costs, the benefits of UI extensions still may be understated—permanent disability benefits are diverted to shorter-run unemployment benefits and, potentially, new jobs, while easing the burden on the nearly-insolvent SSDI Trust Fund.

September 2011

Aging and Pension Reform in a Two-Region World: The Role of Human Capital

by Edgar Vogel, Alexander Ludwig, and Axel Borsch-Supan
SSA Project # NB11-13 • Macroeconomic Analyses of Social Security
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Projected demographic changes in industrialized countries will reduce the share of the workingage population. Analyses based on standard OLG models predict that these changes will increase the capital–labor ratio. Hence, rates of return to capital decrease and wages increase, which has adverse welfare consequences for current middle aged asset rich agents. This paper addresses two important endogenous adjustments channels to dampen these detrimental effects of demographic change: investing abroad and endogenous human capital formation. Our quantitative finding is that openness has a relatively mild effect. In contrast, endogenous human capital formation in combination with profound changes in pension policy—fixing contribution rates and increases in the retirement age—have strong effects. Maximum welfare losses of demographic change for households alive in 2010 decrease from 6.5% to 3.6% when human capital endogenously adjusts and when the statutory retirement age is indexed to life expectancy.

Consumption and Differential Mortality

by Michael Hurd and Susann Rohwedder
SSA Project # UM11-17 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2011-254

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Policy decisions about reforming Social Security or Medicare need to be based on an accurate assessment of the economic position of the retiring population. The most direct indicator of economic well-being is consumption. Yet our understanding of how consumption evolves with age is limited because we have been unable to apply good measures of consumption to panel data, data that follow individuals and households over time. The most prominent survey that measures household consumption is the Consumer Expenditure Survey, which collects only cross-sectional data on consumption. The age profile of consumption in cross-section is likely to differ from the age profile that individuals and households will actually follow because of differential mortality: The poor die sooner than the well-to-do. Thus, average cross-sectional consumption could increase with age simply because the members of a cohort who survive to advanced old age are likely to have greater economic resources than those who died. Using panel data from the Consumption and Activities Mail Survey, we document the extent of differential mortality in consumption data. We construct age profiles of consumption that are based on three methods?cross-sectional data, true panels, and synthetic panels—and compare them. This comparison shows that cross-sectional age profiles do not provide good estimates of the consumption trajectories that individuals and households follow: the cross-sectional profiles decline more slowly with age than the panel profiles. Thus, the results of cross-sectional profiles overestimate the needs of individuals and households for economic resources in retirement.

The Costs and Consequences of Perceived Political Uncertainty in Social Security

by Erzo F. P. Luttmer and Andrew A. Samwick
SSA Project # NB11-11 • Social Security and Retirement
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Households approaching retirement face political uncertainty in their retirement opportunities due to the long-term actuarial deficit in the Social Security program. We field an original internet survey to analyze the impact of this uncertainty on household welfare and behavior. On average, our survey respondents expect only about 60 percent of the benefits they are supposed to get under current law. We document the wide variation around the expectation for most respondents and the heterogeneity in the perceived distributions of future benefits across respondents. This uncertainty has real costs. Our central estimates show that on average households would be willing to forego 4–6 percent of the benefits they are supposed to get under current law to remove the political uncertainty associated with their future benefits. However, responses to hypothetical questions about behavior in the absence of political uncertainty do not suggest that respondents are engaged in precautionary behavior due to the uncertainty.

Do Couples Self-Insure? The Effect of Informal Care on a Couple's Labor Supply

by Norma B. Coe, Meghan Skira, and Courtney Harold Van Houtven
SSA Project # BC11-11 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-16

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How does informal care provision to an elderly parent affect the labor supply outcomes of a couple? Previous work examines the relationship between caregiving and the labor market decisions of the care provider, but ignores any labor supply response of the spouse to such decisions. Using data from the Health and Retirement Survey, we examine how informal care provision affects the labor supply of both members of a couple, at both the intensive and extensive margins. Such analysis is especially important for evaluating informal care's potential effect on retirement timing and household wealth accumulation. We find that providing personal care to an elderly parent reduces a married man's chance of working by 3.2 percentage points, but providing such care does not affect a married woman's chance of working. Additionally, male labor force decisions remain inelastic in response to the wife's caregiving behavior. Working married women do adjust their hours of work in response to caregiving, but in the opposite direction that within-couple insurance would suggest. Instead, the woman increases her work by one hour a week if she is the only care provider, and decreases her work when the husband is the only care provider. When both members of the couple provide informal care these effects cancel out.

Do Low-Income Workers Benefit From 401(K) Plans?

by Eric Toder and Karen E. Smith
SSA Project # BC10-12
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-14

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Economists frequently assume that employees "pay for" employer-provided fringe benefits, such as contributions to retirement plans, in the form of reduced wages. Because lowincome employees receive little tax benefit from saving in qualified retirement plans, however, and may prefer immediate consumption to additional retirement accruals, they may not be willing to accept a one dollar reduction in their wage in return for an additional dollar contributed to their 401(k) plan, while high income workers may be willing to give up more than a dollar in wages to get the tax benefit. It has often proven difficult to estimate the hypothesized negative relationship between fringe benefits and wages because of an inability to identify fully differences in worker quality that cause some workers to receive more cash wages and more fringe benefits. This paper uses a sample from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), matched with the Social Security Administration's Detailed Earnings Records (DER) to estimate the relationship between employer contributions to salary reduction plans and wages for newly hired employees. The data file enables us to supplement demographic data with data on a workers' earnings history to provide a better adjustment for worker quality. We find evidence that additional employer contributions to 401(k) plans reduce money wages much less for low-income than for highincome workers. This suggests that distributional analyses that assume a dollar of employer contributions reduces wages by a dollar for all workers may understate the benefit these plans provide for rank and file workers.

Do Stronger Age Discrimination Laws Make Social Security Reforms More Effective?

by David Neumark and Joanne Song
SSA Project # UM11-15 • Social Security and Retirement
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2011-249

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Numerous Social Security reforms have been implemented to increase employment of those who would otherwise retire, including raising the full retirement age (FRA) from 65 to 67. These supply-side reforms may be frustrated, however, if age discrimination poses barriers to older workers remaining employed or finding new jobs. This study asks whether policies to reduce age discrimination can enhance the impact of Social Security reforms, focusing on the impact of increases in the FRA on benefit claiming and employment. We find that in states with stronger age discrimination protections, older individuals were more responsive to increases in the FRA. Specifically, where the state laws applied to small firms not covered by the ADEA, employment increased more for older individuals for whom the FRA increased. And where the state laws provided stronger remedies (harsher penalties), employment of these older individuals increased more and Social Security benefit claiming fell by more. Because benefits taken before the FRA are actuarially adjusted, whether or not workers claim benefits before the FRA may have little impact on the financial solvency of Social Security. However, if people work longer, they pay taxes into the system for a longer period, which has beneficial financial implications. More generally, the evidence suggests that enhanced incentives for older individuals to remain in the workforce—whether in the form of the second scheduled round of increases in the FRA, or other changes—will be more effective if public policy reduces demand-side barriers to the employment of older workers that stem from discrimination.

Does Delay Cause Decay? The Effect of Administrative Decision Time on the Labor Force Participation and Earnings of Disability Applicants

by David Autor, Nicole Maestas, Kathleen Mullen, and Alexander Strand
SSA Project # UM11-01 • Program Interactions
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2011-258

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An influential body of research studies the labor supply and earnings of denied Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) applicants to estimate the potential employment and earnings of those awarded benefits. This research design implicitly treats employability as a stable applicant attribute that is not directly impacted by the process of applying for SSDI benefits. If, plausibly, applicants' employment potential deteriorates while they are out of the labor force, then the labor force participation of denied applicants—who spend an average of 10 months seeking benefits—may understate their employment potential at the time of application. This paper tests whether the duration of SSDI applications causally affects applicants' subsequent employment. We use a unique Social Security Administration workload database to identify exogenous variation in applicants' initial decision times induced by differences in processing speed among the disability examiners to which they are randomly assigned. This variation significantly affects applicants' total processing time but, importantly, is uncorrelated with their initial award and denial outcomes. We find that longer processing times reduce the employment and earnings of SSDI applicants in the years after their initial decision. A one standard deviation (2.4 month) increase in initial processing time reduces annual employment rates by 1 percentage point (3.2%) in years two, three and four postdecision. Extrapolating these effects to total applicant processing times, we estimate that the SSDI determination process directly reduces the post-application employment of denied applicants by approximately 3.6 percentage points (7%) and allowed applicants by approximately 5.2 percentage points (33%).

The Downside of Defaults

by Jeffrey R. Brown, Anne M. Farrell, and Scott J. Weisbenner
SSA Project # NB11-01 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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The use of default options to influence behavior in the retirement savings arena has expanded significantly in recent years. While the use of defaults is sometimes portrayed as a Pareto improvement because it guides behavior without constraining individual choice, the welfare implications of defaults depends critically on why people default and whether the default is well-suited to those affected. In this paper, we use survey and administrative data on participants in a large public retirement system to explore who defaults on an important economic decision, why they default, and whether they subsequently regret their decision (or lack of decision). We find that information problems are an important contributor to the likelihood of default. We show that the likelihood of default increases with information problems, and that this holds true even after controlling for general and decision-specific knowledge, preferences and beliefs, and a variety of socioeconomic characteristics. We also find significant heterogeneity in the self-reported reasons for default, with sizable numbers of participants attributing their default to each of the commonly hypothesized reasons (e.g., endorsement effects, complexity, and procrastination), as well as to "deliberate defaulting" by those who believe the default option represented the best choice, and to beliefs that the decision was not important. We also find that individuals who are passively defaulted are substantially more likely to regret their decision (as measured by whether they would make the same choice today) than individuals who make an active choice. In total, our results suggest that there are potentially important negative welfare consequences when default options are used for complex, high-stakes welfare decisions.

Earnings Growth versus Measures of Income and Education for Predicting Mortality

by Harriet Orcutt Duleep and David Jaeger
SSA Project # UM10-24
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-257

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Mortality is a key component of models that project the financial status of Social Security programs and simulate the effects of program changes. Variables that can predict mortality many years forward are particularly useful for Social Security forecasting purposes. Since mortality varies profoundly by socioeconomic status, understanding how various measures of socioeconomic status affect mortality contributes to more accurate predictions of mortality. This paper explores the importance of earnings growth as a predictor of mortality in comparison with the more traditional socioeconomic predictors of mortality—levels of income and education. To insure its robustness and general applicability to ongoing Social Security models, the usefulness of earnings growth as a predictor of mortality should be explored in multiple time periods. We begin that process in this paper by reporting preliminary results for an early time period using the 1973 CPS-SSA-IRS Exact Match file. Keeping in mind the preliminary nature of this investigation, initial results support the following conclusions:
  • Earnings growth, measured over the entire career of individuals, appears to supersede income's effect as a predictor of mortality.
  • Both education and earnings growth are useful for predicting mortality.
  • Earnings growth may be particularly useful when predicting mortality from early working years.
  • If confirmed, the final result would be of particular use in forecasting models that rely only on Social Security's administrative record data since these data lack information on years of schooling.

Effects of Legal and Unauthorized Immigration on the U.S. Social Security System

by Hugo Benítez-Silva, Eva Cárceles-Poveda, and Selçuk Eren
SSA Project # UM11-07 • Social Security and Retirement
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2011-250

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Immigration is having an increasingly important effect on the social insurance system in the United States. On the one hand, eligible legal immigrants have the right to receive pension benefits, but also rely on other aspects of the social insurance system such as unemployment insurance, health care, disability, and welfare programs, while most of their savings have direct positive effects on the domestic economy. On the other hand, most undocumented immigrants contribute to the system through taxed wages, but they are not eligible for these programs unless they attain legal status, and a majority of their savings translates into remittances which have no effect on the domestic economy. Therefore, to understand the impact of immigrant workers on the economy we have to take into account the decisions and events these individuals face throughout their lives, as well as their use of the government programs. We present an empirically based life-cycle Overlapping Generations model in a General Equilibrium framework which differentiates natives from legal and undocumented immigrants. We study their consumption, savings, labor earnings and social insurance entitlements to analyze their role in the financial sustainability of the system and the growth of the economy. We analyze the consequences for our economy of a policy which allows a proportion of undocumented immigrants to attain legal status. We find significant positive effects of legalization on capital stock, output, consumption levels, labor productivity, and the overall welfare of individuals. While the effects are small in percentage terms, given the size of our economy, the level effects are considerable.

Health Care Spending Growth and the Future of U.S. Tax Rates

by Katherine Baicker and Jonathan Skinner
SSA Project # NB11-14 • Macroeconomic Analyses of Social Security
National Bureau of Economic Research

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The fraction of GDP devoted to health care in the United States is the highest in the world and rising rapidly. Recent economic studies have highlighted the growing value of health improvements, but less attention has been paid to the efficiency costs of tax-financed spending to pay for such improvements. This paper uses a life cycle model of labor supply, saving, and longevity improvement to measure the balanced-budget impact of continued growth in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The model predicts that top marginal tax rates could rise to 70 percent by 2060, depending on the progressivity of future tax changes. The deadweight loss of the tax system is greater when the financing is more progressive. If the share of taxes paid by high-income taxpayers remains the same, the efficiency cost of raising the revenue needed to finance the additional health spending is $1.48 per dollar of revenue collected, and GDP declines (relative to trend) by 11 percent. A proportional payroll tax has a lower efficiency cost (41 cents per dollar of revenue averaged over all tax hikes, a 5 percent drop in GDP) but more than doubles the share of the tax burden borne by lower income taxpayers. Empirical support for the model comes from analysis of OECD country data showing that countries facing higher tax burdens in 1979 experienced slower health care spending growth in subsequent decades. The rising burden imposed by the public financing of health care expenditures may therefore serve as a brake on health care spending growth.

Health Insurance, Health Care and Labor Supply by Older Adults

by Lauren Hersch Nicholas
SSA Project # UM11-04 • Program Interactions
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2011-256

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Early exits from the labor force can adversely affect economic well-being in retirement. Health status and disability are important determinants of retirement age. However, it is unknown whether more intensive healthcare utilization can effectively delay or reverse the onset of work-limiting disability. This paper examines the effect of elective surgery receipt on Social Security Disability Insurance application and receipt and the age at which Social Security benefits are first claimed amongst older adults with arthritis and heart disease, common chronic conditions amongst older adults. I use panel data from the Health and Retirement Study to follow older adults with work-limiting disabilities who develop new chronic conditions. Comparisons of patients who do and do not receive elective surgery suggest that both angioplasty and joint replacement surgery reduce the probability of applying for Social Security Disability Insurance by up to 22 percentage points and delay the age at which a respondent first claims Social Security benefits by 1.3–3.5 years. Periods of uninsurance after condition onset are associated with lower probability of receiving surgery for patients with heart disease, but not arthritis. Increasing access to medical care amongst chronically ill workers may help to reduce new SSDI applications. Temporary benefit programs to provide income support to workers taking medical leave to receive surgery, for example, could help to reduce permanent transitions to SSDI. Findings also suggest that there are important economic effects of medical treatment intensity that should be considered in cost-effectiveness analysis.

Heterogeneity in Target-Date Funds and the Pension Protection Act of 2006

by Pierluigi Balduzzi and Jonathan Reuter
SSA Project # NB11-02 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This paper studies the evolution of the market for target-date funds (TDFs) during the 1994–2009 period. We document pronounced heterogeneity in the TDF universe: TDFs with the same target date have delivered very different returns because of differences in systematic risk in the stock allocations and because of differences in the stock vs. bond allocations. This heterogeneity has increased over time, especially after the passage of the Pension Protection Plan of 2006. Indeed, we can attribute the increased heterogeneity to the entry of new fund families in the TDF market during the 2007–2009 period. These developments in the TDF market are consistent with new entries in the market adopting a product-differentiation strategy. Our findings suggest that the widespread adoption of TDFs will not result in returns that are similar across investors enrolled in different 401(k) plans, and that the current proposals for further disclosure in TDF offerings may have little impact on the incentive for fund families to offer similar risk profiles.

How Is Hardship Avoided for Those Retiring Before Social Security Entitlement Ages?

by Kevin Milligan
SSA Project # NB11-06 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Governments around the world are reacting to extended lifespans and troubled pension finances by increasing the age of retirement benefit entitlement. One concern that arises is how those who are not working before reaching entitlement age are able to bridge their consumption to the age of entitlement. This paper studies those who retire before the age of full pension entitlement in the United States using data drawn from the Health and Retirement Study. The major finding is that four out of five people who have zero earnings at pre-entitlement ages are able to find a way to lift their incomes over the poverty line. For men, pension and annuity income is important while for women, spousal income helps most to get them over the line. Reaching the early retirement entitlement age at 62 also has a significant impact on poverty avoidance.

The Importance of State Anti-Discrimination Laws on Employer Accommodation and the Movement of their Employees onto Social Security Disability Insurance

by Richard V. Burkhauser, Lauren H. Nicholas, and Maximilian D. Schmeiser
SSA Project # UM11-02 • Program Interactions
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2011-251

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The rate of application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, as well as the number of beneficiaries has been increasing for the past several decades, threatening the solvency of the SSDI program. One possible remedy is to promote continued employment amongst those experiencing the onset of a work limiting disability through the provision of workplace accommodations. Using the Health and Retirement Study data linked to Social Security administrative records and a state fixed effects model, we find that the provision of workplace accommodation reduces the probability of application for SSDI following disability onset. We estimate that receipt of an accommodation reduces a worker's probability of applying for SSDI by 30 percent over five years and 21 percent over 10 years. We then attempt to control for the potential endogeneity of accommodation receipt by exploiting exogenous variation in the implementation of state and federal anti-discrimination laws to estimate the impact of workplace accommodation on SSDI application in an instrumental variables (IV) model. While our coefficients continue to indicate that accommodation reduces SSDI application, we obtain implausibly large estimates of this effect. Overall our results imply that increasing accommodation is a plausible strategy for reducing SSDI applications and the number of beneficiaries.

The Influence of Public Policy on Health, Wealth and Mortality

by John Karl Scholz and Ananth Seshadri
SSA Project # UM11-12 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2011-252

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We develop a model of health capital, which is enhanced by investments of time and money but subject to depreciation and age-dependent random shocks. We embed this model into a sophisticated model of intertemporal consumption. Doing so allows us to study two behavioral responses that to date have not been explored: the tradeoff between consumption and health investments and the effects of policy on longevity. When matching the model and data, we find consumption and health are complements, meaning that as health depreciates with age, households will get less utility from consumption. This result has implications for the timing of consumption over the lifecycle. Households will want to move consumption earlier in the lifecycle, which in turn implies households need less wealth to maintain living standards in retirement relative to the implications of a model that ignores health capital. It appears that forward-looking households, when confronted by a substantially reduced safety net, may respond by reducing consumption and by reducing their health investment. Large non-health related policy changes can affect survival probabilities of low-lifetime-income households. There are potentially important differences between short- and long-run responses to policy. Changes in survival probabilities over a decade, even to very large policies affecting the elderly, can be small because health capital is largely determined by the time an individual reaches retirement. Long-run changes can be substantial. Over long periods, young household may alter their mix of health investments and consumption in response to anticipated policies with possibly adverse consequences for longevity.

Lifecycle Impacts of the Financial and Economic Crisis on Household Optimal Consumption, Portfolio Choice, and Labor Supply

by Jingjing Chai, Raimond Maurer, Olivia S. Mitchell, and Ralph Rogalla
SSA Project # UM11-11 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2011-246

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The impact of the financial crisis has been to deal a heavy blow to investment-based pensions; many workers lost a substantial portion of their retirement saving. The financial sector implosion produced an economic crisis for the rest of the economy via high unemployment and reduced labor earnings, which reduced household contributions to Social Security and private pensions. Our research asks which individuals were most affected by these dual financial and economic shocks, and it explores how people may react by changing their consumption, saving, investment, work, and retirement decisions. We do so with a realistically calibrated lifecycle framework allowing for time-varying investments and countercyclical risky labor income.
Our results indicate that some will be able to hedge adverse capital market developments they face in the crisis, by altering their asset allocations, work hours and retirement ages. In particular, we find that when hit by a financial/economic crisis households near-retirement cut their consumption both in the short-term and over the long-term. Moreover, they increase their work effort and postpone retirement. For young cohorts, short-term effects differ from those in the long-run. During the first years after the onset of the crisis, young households will reduce work hours, savings, and equity exposure and suffer from a drop in consumption. In the long run, however, they will work more, retire later, invest more in stocks, consume less, and spend less on annuities. These predictions illustrate the key dimensions along which economic adjustment are likely to occur, in response to the most severe recession since the Great Depression.

Marriage, Employment and Inequality of Women's Lifetime Earned Income

by Chinhui Juhn and Kristin McCue
SSA Project # NB11-07 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Using Current Population Surveys and Survey of Income and Program Participation data matched to Social Security earnings records, we summarize changes in marital histories for different birth cohorts of women and project the associated changes in women's own lifetime earnings and in spousal earnings. We find that the gap in lifetime earnings between married and single women appears to have essentially closed for less educated women while a small differential still exists for more educated women. The earnings gap across education categories has increased rapidly in terms of women's own lifetime earnings. The level of earnings inequality across education categories is higher when marriage and husbands' earnings is taken into account although the increase is less pronounced. Lifetime earnings of married college-educated women diverged most dramatically from those of less educated single women.

The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment: Evidence from the First Year

by Amy Finkelstein, Sarah Taubman, Bill Wright, Mira Bernstein, Jonathan Gruber, Joseph P. Newhouse, Heidi Allen, and Katherine Baicker
SSA Project # NB10-14
National Bureau of Economic Research

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In 2008, a group of uninsured low-income adults in Oregon was selected by lottery to be given the chance to apply for Medicaid. This lottery provides a unique opportunity to gauge the effects of expanding access to public health insurance on the health care use, financial strain, and health of low-income adults using a randomized controlled design. In the year after random assignment, the treatment group selected by the lottery was about 25 percentage points more likely to have insurance than the control group that was not selected. We find that in this first year, the treatment group had substantively and statistically significantly higher health care utilization (including primary and preventive care as well as hospitalizations), lower out-of-pocket medical expenditures and medical debt (including fewer bills sent to collection), and better self-reported physical and mental health than the control group.

Public Health Expenditures on the Working Age Disabled: Assessing Medicare and Medicaid Utilization of SSDI and SSI Recipients

by David Autor, Amitabh Chandra, and Mark Duggan
SSA Project # NB09-08
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Currently more than 12 million non-elderly adults in the U.S. are receiving disability benefits from the federal SSDI and/or SSI programs. Recipients of these two programs receive health insurance through the Medicare and Medicaid programs, respectively. Despite the large amount spent on health care for the disabled, very little previous research has explored the drivers of this spending. In this study, we partially fill this gap by exploring the determinants of Medicaid and Medicare spending on the disabled using large-scale claims data sets for a 10 percent random sample of beneficiaries from both programs residing in one of our eleven sample states. Our findings demonstrate that there is substantial variation across geographic areas in spending for these two programs, with this variation especially large for Medicaid spending. Additionally, our results strongly suggest that Medicare and Medicaid expenditure variation are not positively related—if anything the opposite appears to be true—with areas that have high Medicaid spending tending to have lower Medicare spending. And finally, we find that Medicaid spending variation is to a large extent, though by no means fully, driven by variation in the intensity of care. Given the large amount spent on health care for the disabled through Medicaid and Medicare, more research that explores the determinants and impact of this spending is warranted.

Recessions, Social Security, and Living Arrangements of the Elderly

by Courtney C. Coile and Phillip B. Levine
SSA Project # NB11-12 • Macroeconomic Analyses of Social Security
National Bureau of Economic Research

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We explore the effect of unemployment around the time of retirement on elderly living arrangements. Specifically, we estimate reduced-form models that relate the age-62 unemployment rate to the living arrangements of men ages 70 and above using data from the 2000 U.S. Census and the 2001 through 2009 American Community Surveys (ACS). We find that experiencing a higher unemployment rate at age 62 is associated with a reduced probability of living independently in retirement. The effect is strongest for those who are older, married, and high school graduates. We show that the effect of labor market conditions on elderly living arrangements peaks at around age 62, the age of eligibility for Social Security benefits. These findings, in combination with those from our earlier work, strongly suggest that weak labor markets around the time of retirement have long-lasting, negative effects on retiree well-being and that the mechanism for this effect is earlier retirement and claiming of Social Security benefits.

Selection on Moral Hazard in Health Insurance

by Liran Einav, Amy Finkelstein, Stephen Ryan, Paul Schrimpf, and Mark Culleny
SSA Project # NB11-10 • Program Interactions
National Bureau of Economic Research

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In this paper we explore the possibility that individuals may select insurance coverage in part based on their anticipated behavioral response to the insurance contract. Such selection on moral hazard ?can have important implications for attempts to combat either selection or moral hazard. We explore these issues using individual-level panel data from a single firm, which contain information about health insurance options, choices, and subsequent claims. To identify the behavioral response to health insurance coverage and the heterogeneity in it, we take advantage of a change in the health insurance options offered to some, but not all of the firm's employees. We begin with descriptive evidence that is suggestive of both heterogeneous moral hazard as well as selection on it, with individuals who select more coverage also appearing to exhibit greater behavioral response to that coverage. To formalize this analysis and explore its implications, we develop and estimate a model of plan choice and medical utilization. The results from the modeling exercise echo the descriptive evidence, and allow for further explorations of the interaction between selection and moral hazard. For example, one implication of our estimates is that abstracting from selection on moral hazard could lead one to substantially over-estimate the spending reduction associated with introducing a high deductible health insurance option.

Why Don't Retirees Insure Against Long-Term Care Expenses? Evidence from Survey Responses

by Jeffrey R. Brown, Gopi Shah Goda, and Kathleen McGarry
SSA Project # NB11-05 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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We conduct a detailed survey of those nearing and in retirement to help assess the relative support for numerous alternative hypotheses regarding the small size of the long-term care insurance market. We categorize these hypotheses into four broad categories: (i) Preferences and Beliefs, which includes factors such as time preference, risk aversion, bequests, state-dependent utility, and beliefs about the need for care, (ii) Substitutes for Insurance, such as the ability to pay for care out of wealth, home equity, or family resources, a plan to rely on Medicaid, or mistaken beliefs that such care is covered by Medicare, (iii) Substitutes for Formal Care, most notably including the ability to receive care from family members rather than relying on formal market-based care, and (iv) Features of the Private Market, including concerns about cost, affordability, counter-party risk, and distrust of insurers. We find num! erous significant differences in the likelihood of buying insurance based on differences in each of these dimensions. For example, we find that individuals are much more likely to purchase private longterm care insurance if they place a higher value on money when sick versus money when healthy (i.e., state-dependent preferences), if they report a stronger bequest motive, if they believe they are more likely to need care, if they place a stronger emphasis on the avoidance of burdening their families with care provision, prefer care to be given by professionals, and believe premiums are appropriately priced given the care they provide. Individuals are much less likely to purchase private insurance if they believe their family is likely to take care of them, if they are concerned about affordability of insurance, if they are more concerned about counter-party risk, or that they insurance company might deny legitimate claims or raise premiums in the future.

August 2011

Adjusting Social Security for Increasing Life Expectancy: Effects on Progessivity

by Courtney Monk, John A. Turner, and Natalia A. Zhivan
SSA Project # BC10-06
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-9

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Achieving long-run Social Security solvency requires addressing rising life expectancy. Increasing the Full Retirement Age (FRA), while holding the Early Entitlement Age (EEA) fixed, could be effective but eventually will result in replacement rates that are viewed by many as too low. A possible policy to prop up replacement rates is to raise the EEA, which has been age 62 for more than 40 years. However, an increase in the EEA introduces unfairness because the variation in life expectancy across socioeconomic groups is positively correlated with lifetime income. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study to investigate how earnings relate to mortality risk and health limitations, this project explores the possibility of constructing a flexible FRA that could preserve or even enhance the progressivity of Social Security benefits. If life expectancy were correlated with lifetime income, Social Security policy could use the AIME (Average Indexed Monthly Earnings) to target policies that are more equitable for people with both lower lifetime income and lower life expectancy. Unfortunately, we find that while life expectancy is strongly correlated with AIME for men, it is only weakly correlated for women, and when pooling the genders the correlation disappears. We then investigate whether targeting could be done by the max AIME, which is the AIME for single persons and the maximum of the husband's or wife's AIME for married couples. We find that the max AIME, which is a household measure of lifetime income, could be used for constructing a flexible FRA because it is negatively correlated with mortality risk and also negatively correlated with other measures of economic vulnerability or inability to work at older ages. With a flexible FRA, individuals in households with a low max AIME would have a lower FRA than other individuals.

Corporate Pension Plan Investments in Alternative Assets: Determinants and Consequences

by Divya Anantharaman
SSA Project # BC10-S1
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-13

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I examine the determinants and consequences of corporate pension plan investments in hedge funds and private equity, commonly referred to as "alternative assets". I find that highly leveraged firms with low market-to-book ratios and volatile earnings performance are more likely to invest in alternative assets, indicating that financially constrained firms choose alternative investments to increase asset returns and minimize pension contributions. I also find a nonlinear relationship between plan funding status and alternative investing—very underfunded and well-funded plans are less likely to make alternative investments compared to moderately underfunded plans, suggesting that such plan sponsors may avoid these investments to minimize contribution volatility. I find that plans with alternative investments earn higher returns in the pre-crisis period, but also perform more poorly during the crisis period, suggesting that the potential diversification benefits from investing in this asset category may be overstated.

The Effects of Changes in Women's Labor Market Attachment on Redistribution Under the Social Security Benefit Formula

by Alan L. Gustman
SSA Project # UM11-06 • Social Security and Retirement
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2011-248

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Studies using data from the early 1990s found that the progressive Social Security benefit formula is much less successful in redistributing benefits from households with high earnings to households with low earnings than it is in redistributing from individuals with high to low earnings. Wives often earned much less than their husbands. As a result, much of the redistribution at the individual level was effectively from high earning husbands to their own lower earning wives. In addition, spouse and survivor benefits accrue disproportionately to women from high income households. Both factors mitigate redistribution at the household level. This paper compares outcomes for the earlier cohort with those of a cohort born twelve years later. With greater growth in women's earnings, the aim of the study is to see whether the Social Security system now fosters somewhat more redistribution from high to low earning households. Although women enjoyed more rapid growth in labor market activities and earnings than men, we find that the Social Security system remains much less successful in redistributing benefits from households with high covered earnings to those with lower covered earnings than in redistributing benefits from individuals with high covered earnings to those with lower covered earnings. Policy makers must decide whether they are happy with the current level of redistribution of Social Security benefits at the household level, which differs quite substantially from the sharp degree of redistribution suggested by the benefit formula, or whether they would prefer a system that is more, or less, redistributive.

June 2011

The Availability and Utilization of 401(k) Loans

by John Beshears, James J. Choi, David Laibson, and Brigitte C. Madrian
SSA Project # NB08-09 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 17118

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We find that 401(k) loan utilization is related to the types of loan features adopted by firms. 401(k) loan utilization is higher in plans that have lower minimum loan amounts and in plans that allow employees to take out multiple loans. 401(k) loan utilization is lower in plans that have higher loan interest rates.

Does Disability Insurance Discourage Work? Using Examiner Assignment to Estimate Causal Effects of SSDI Receipt

by Nicole Maestas, Kathleen Mullen, and Alexander Strand
SSA Project # UM10-04
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-241

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We present the first estimates of the causal effect of SSDI receipt on the labor supply generalizeable to the entire population of program entrants in the present day system. We take advantage of a unique workload management database to match Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) applicants to disability examiners, and use natural variation in examiners' allowance rates to estimate the labor supply effects of SSDI. Because applicants are randomly assigned to examiners (conditional on observable characteristics), examiner-specific allowance rates can be used to instrument for the allowance decision in a labor supply equation contrasting denied versus allowed applicants. We find that labor force participation of SSDI beneficiaries would be 22 percentage points greater in the absence of SSDI benefits, the percent of beneficiaries engaging in substantial gainful activity as defined by the SSDI program would be 13 percentage points higher, and SSDI beneficiaries would earn $1,600 to $2,600 more per year on average in the absence of SSDI. The marginal entrant is likely to have a mental impairment, be young, and have low pre-onset earnings. Importantly, the disincentive effect varies across individuals with impairments of different degrees of unobservable severity, ranging from a low of 10 percentage points for those with more severe impairments to a high of 60 percentage points for entrants with relatively less severe impairments.

May 2011

Social Security Reform and Male Labor Force Participation Around the World

by Jocelyn E. Finlay and Günther Fink
SSA Project # BC10-S2 • International Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-12

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In this paper we analyze the effect of social security regime changes on labor force participation of 50–80-year-old men across and within 13 countries: Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Chile, France, Greece, Malaysia, Mexico, Panama, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and the United States. Labor force participation of men aged 50–80 has declined dramatically since 1960, despite increases in life expectancy and the compression of morbidity. We use three variables to capture information regarding the social security regime: the social security tax rate as a fraction of the wage; the replacement rates as a fraction of the wage; and the delay incentive as a fraction of the wage. We find that the tax rate has an inconsistent effect on labor force participation rates across countries, but the replacement rate has a strong negative effect on labor force participation incentives. That is, a higher replacement rate will encourage men to retire. The delay incentive has a small positive effect on labor force participation. Stratifications by regions within France and the US show that within country variation in the labor market response to national social security regimes exists. We also stratify by education attainment and find that those with higher levels of education have a weaker labor market response to changes in the social security regime.

April 2011

Immigrant Diversity and Social Security: Recent Patterns and Future Prospects

by Melissa M. Favreault and Austin Nichols
SSA Project # BC10-18
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-8

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Immigration is transforming the U.S. labor force with important consequences for Social Security's adequacy and finances. Using longitudinal data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation matched to rich administrative data on lifetime earnings and benefit receipt, we measure the extent to which non-natives' lifetime earning patterns, payroll taxes paid, benefits received, and total incomes differ from those for the U.S.-born population. We consider other outcomes important to retirement security, like health status, marital status, and financial wealth. We also compare various immigrant groups with one another. Our findings stress heterogeneity in labor force and Social Security experiences among immigrants.

An In-Depth Look Into Intergenerational Flows

by Oksana Leukhina and Marika Santoro
SSA Project # BC08-S4
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-11

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The goal of this paper is to carefully document the characteristics of within-family monetary transfers in the United States, using all nine waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). Using the HRS, we construct a novel child-level longitudinal dataset and augment it with detailed information at the parent level. Consistent with previous studies, we document that intra-family transfers are significant in their incidence and magnitude and that, on average, they flow downward, from parents to children. Since we observe families for as long as 18 years, we are able to document new facts and establish a link between the early parental transfers and children's characteristics later in life. Among many facts we document, we find a strong incidence of parental transfers during child episodes of negative financial shocks, such as a job loss or divorce. We also find that children receiving larger transfers early in life are more likely to belong to a higher income class later. Parental giving is positively related to parental wealth, age and liquidity and children's permanent income, while it is related negatively to children's age and children's income category at the time of giving. We find that providing parents with help and attention is not a significant determinant of parental transfers overall. However, after conditioning on the parental decision to give to at least one child, levels of attention and help provided by a given child are important determinants of the relative (to one's siblings) parental transfers. Overall, we find that, independent of the motive for giving, parental transfers help improve children's welfare.

The Labor Supply Effects of Disability Insurance Work Disincentives: Evidence from Administrative Data

by Nicole Maestas and Jae Song
SSA Project # UM10-01
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-247

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We analyze a natural experiment generated by the interaction of the Social Security DI and OA programs at Full Retirement Age, when DI beneficiaries are automatically converted from the DI program to the OA retired worker program. At conversion benefit payments continue unchanged, however the DI program's high implicit marginal tax rate on earnings is abruptly relaxed. We use administrative Social Security data for the universe of primary worker DI beneficiaries from the 1934–1942 birth cohorts observed in panel over the period of 1995–2008. Our estimates imply that the DI program depresses labor supply among even the oldest DI beneficiaries. In the context of the literature to date that has sought to establish an upper bound on the earnings losses caused by the presence of the DI program by using quasi-experimental variation occurring at the program entry margin, our use of quasi-experimental variation arising from the program exit margin, when individuals are already in their mid-60s and the dominant trend in labor force participation in the population at large is downward, suggests that our estimates are most appropriately viewed as a lower bound estimate of the residual work capacity of all beneficiaries.

Nonparametric Evidence on The Effects of Retirement Benefits on Labor Force Participation Decisions

by Dayanand Manoli and Andrea Weber
SSA Project # BC10-S4
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-24

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This paper presents new empirical evidence on the effects of retirement benefits on labor force participation decisions. We use administrative data on the census of private sector employees in Austria and variation from mandated discontinuous changes in retirement benefits from the Austrian pension system. We present nonparametric, graphical evidence documenting labor supply responses to the policy discontinuities. Next, based on the nonparametric evidence and mandated financial incentives, we estimate extensive margin labor supply elasticities. We estimate elasticities of 0.12 for men and 0.38 for women. The evidence indicates these elasticities are primarily driven by substitution effects rather than wealth effects.

The Potential Impact of the Great Recession on Future Retirement Incomes

by Barbara A. Butrica, Richard W. Johnson, and Karen E. Smith
SSA Project # BC10-04
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-9

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This study uses DYNASIM3, the Urban Institute's dynamic microsimulation model, to examine the long-run effects of the Great Recession on the future retirement incomes of working-age individuals in 2008. It compares a baseline scenario that incorporates the historic and projected effects of high unemployment and lower wages from the recession with a no-recession scenario that assumes the recession had not occurred. The results show that the recession will reduce average annual incomes at age 70 by 4.3 percent, or $2,300 per person. This drop results almost entirely from the anemic wage growth that occurred during the recession, which the model assumes will permanently reduce future wages. Employment declines will have little effect on future aggregate retirement incomes because most workers remained employed during the recession and the losses that occurred are generally inconsequential when averaged over an entire career. Retirement incomes will fall most for high-socioeconomic-status groups, who have the most to lose, but relative income losses will not vary much across groups. Those workers who were youngest when the recession began will be hit hard. They are most likely to have lost their jobs and the impact of lower wages will accumulate over much of their working lives. But retirement incomes will also fall substantially for those in their late fifties in 2008, because the drop in the economy-wide average wage will lower the index factor in the Social Security benefit formula, permanently reducing their annual benefits. Also, many workers who lost jobs late in life will never become reemployed.

Propagation and Risk Spreading in Alternative Social Security Systems

by Alan Auerbach, Lorenz Kueng, and Ronald Lee
SSA Project # NB09-19
National Bureau of Economic Research

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While a primary function of pension systems is to provide resources to elderly retirees, pensions can satisfy other government functions as well. One such function is the allocation of economic and demographic shocks among different generations. While many government policies have intergenerational consequences (e.g., national debt management, infrastructure investment, and expenditures on public education), the size and variety of public pension schemes makes them a natural focus when considering the intergenerational effects of policy. Funded defined-contribution pension schemes result in one particular allocation of economic and demographic shocks among generations. For example, a larger age cohort would be expected to experience lower lifetime wages (because of its high labor supply) and lower rates of return on its retirement saving (because of its high demand for retirement assets). But public pension systems take many other forms, varying in the extent of funding, or asset accumulation, as well as the formulas for contributions and benefits, and how they may be adjusted in response to economic and demographic pressures.

Who Retires Early?

by Henry J. Aaron and Jean Marie Callan
SSA Project # BC10-16
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-10

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The possibility of increasing the age at which Social Security benefits are first paid merits renewed scrutiny for at least three reasons: (1) a decrease in overall benefits would imply that those claiming reduced benefits before the "full benefits age" may accept benefits that seem adequate when claimed but are insufficient when income earnings ends and savings are depleted; (2) life expectancy has increased; and (3) an enlarged labor force would increase potential national income and ameliorate projected future deficits. This paper examines differences in personal circumstances between those who retire and those who remain at work for pay at various ages. The findings, based on the Health and Retirement Survey, are that there are differences between these two groups, but they are rather small. Some who claim retirement benefits before the full benefits age would face serious hardship if those benefits were no longer available, however. For that reason, if the age of initial eligibility is increased, consideration should be given to measures targeted on this group. The paper then goes on to consider back-up protections that might be provided to those who now claim early retirement benefits should the age of initial eligibility be increased.

March 2011

First-Round Impacts of the 2008 Chilean Pension System Reform

by Jere R. Behrman, Maria Cecilia Calderon, Olivia S. Mitchell, Javiera Vasquez, and David Bravo
SSA Project # UM11-05 • International Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2011-245

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Chile's innovative privatized pension system has been lauded as possible model for Social Security system overhauls in other countries, yet it has also been critiqued for not including a strong safety net for the uncovered sector. In response, the Bachelet government in 2008 implemented reforms to rectify this shortcoming. Here we offer the first systematic effort to directly evaluate the reform?s impacts, focusing on the new Basic Solidarity Pension for poor households with at least one person age 65+. Using the Social Protection Survey, we show that targeted poor households received about 2.4 percent more household annual income, with little evidence of crowding-out of private transfers. We also suggest that recipient household welfare probably increased due to slightly higher expenditures on basic consumption including healthcare, more leisure hours, and improved self-reported health. While measured short-run effects are small, follow-ups will be essential to gauge longer-run outcomes.

January 2011

Health and Retirement Effects in a Collective Consumption Model of Elderly Households

by Arthur Lewbel and Shannon Seitz
SSA Project # BC09-S5
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-4

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Using data on elderly individuals and couples, we estimate a collective model of household consumption of a variety of goods, showing how resources are shared between husband and wife, and how this allocation is affected by retirement and health status. We identify the extent to which shared consumption of some goods by elderly married couples reduces the costs of living relative to living alone. We also identify the fraction of household resources consumed by wives versus husbands, taking this jointness of some consumption into account. The results are relevant for household bargaining models and for a variety of welfare calculations.

Interdependent Durations in Joint Retirement

by Bo Honoré and Áureo de Paula
SSA Project # BC09-S1
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-5

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In this paper, we use a novel duration model to study joint retirement in married couples using the Health and Retirement Study. Whereas conventionally used models cannot account for joint retirement, our model admits joint retirement with positive probability and nests the traditional proportional hazards model. In contrast to other statistical models for simultaneous durations, it is based on Nash bargaining and is interpretable as an economic behavior model. Our estimation strategy relies on indirect inference.

Why Aren't More Families Buying Life Insurance?

by Matthew S. Chambers, Don E. Schlagenhauf, and Eric R. Young
SSA Project # BC09-S4
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-7

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This paper explores life insurance holdings from a general equilibrium perspective. Drawing on the data explored in Chambers, Schlagenhauf, and Young (2003), we calibrate an overlapping generation's lifecycle economy with incomplete asset markets to match facts regarding the uncertainty of income and demographics. We then estimate that life insurance holdings for the purpose of smoothing family consumption are so large that they constitute a puzzle from the perspective of standard economic theory. Furthermore, the welfare gains from a life insurance market are concentrated in the minds of households who use the real world market very little.

December 2010

Age Differences in Job Displacement, Job Search, and Reemployment

by Richard W. Johnson and Corina Mommaerts
SSA Project # BC10-01
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-3

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Working longer is often hailed as the best way to increase retirement incomes, yet this strategy depends crucially on seniors' ability to find work and hold on to their jobs. This study examines how the incidence and consequences of job displacement vary by age. Data come primarily from the 1996, 2001, and 2004 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation, which follow respondents for up to 48 months. The data span the years 1996 to 2007, covering the 2001 recession but not the 2007–2009 recession.
Results show that older workers are less likely than younger workers to lose their jobs, but only because they generally have spent more time with their employers. When older workers lose their jobs, they appear to have more trouble than their younger counterparts finding work. Compared with their counterparts age 25 to 34, displaced men age 50 to 61 are 39 percent less likely to become reemployed each month and displaced women age 50 to 61 are 18 percent less likely. When older displaced workers find jobs, they typically experience sharp wage declines. Among displaced men who become reemployed, for example, the median hourly wage on the new job falls 20 percent below the median wage on the old job at age 50 to 61, compared with only 2 percent at age 25 to 34. These findings suggest that some employers are reluctant to hire older workers, and raise questions about the employability of older adults.

The Earnings and Social Security Contributions of Documented and Undocumented Mexican Immigrants

by Gary Burtless and Audrey Singer
SSA Project # BC10-17
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-2

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Using information supplied by immigrants interviewed by the Mexican Migration Project (MMP) we analyze the social security coverage of jobs held by legal and other-than-legal Mexican immigrants who work in the United States. Our analysis suggests that about half the Mexican-born migrants residing in the United States who are wage earners and heads of household earn their incomes in jobs that are not covered by social security. Since workers in uncovered jobs tend to earn below-average wages, their earnings account for less than half the wages earned by Mexican immigrants. Evidence from the MMP survey shows that social security coverage is higher among Mexican immigrants who are authorized to live in the United States than it is among undocumented Mexican immigrants. Coverage among working legal permanent residents is less than 75%, but the coverage rate among undocumented workers is even lower, about 25%. Based on annual earnings reports in the March CPS we estimate that in 2007 about 1.4% of all U.S. wages, or $87 billion, was earned by Mexican immigrant heads of household. Our estimates imply that about 52% of this total was earned in social-security-covered jobs while the remainder, about $41 billion, was earned in jobs not covered by social security. The MMP surveys show that only a small proportion of undocumented migrants report a change in their legal status that allowed them to live and work legally in this country. Two-thirds of legalizations occurred within five years of the enactment of the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. In the absence of this kind of special legislation, only a small percentage of undocumented workers are likely to be granted permanent residency status in the future. Thus, the social-security-covered wages of most of the undocumented workers who earn them will never result in an increased claim for social security benefits.

Post-Retirement Adjustments in Defined Benefit Pensions

by Charles Brown
SSA Project # UM10-17
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-242

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Few private defined benefit pension plans commit to indexing benefits after a worker begins receiving them. Previous (now dated) research found that most plans did, nonetheless, make "voluntary" adjustments, which compensated for roughly 40 percent of the price increases experienced since retirement. In analyzing changes in pension benefits reported by HRS respondents between 1994 and 2008, I find annual increases that are about one third of the increase in the CPI. The increases are concentrated among respondents who report that their benefits are adjusted for inflation. They are larger for workers in public administration than in other industries; perhaps surprisingly, they are not larger in jobs covered by union contracts than those in the non-union sector. The HRS data also show that benefits paid out of defined contribution plans increased, again by roughly one third of the increase in consumer prices.

Protecting the Household Incomes of Older Workers with Significant Health-Related Work Limitations in an Era of Fiscal Responsibility

by Jody Schimmel and David C. Stapleton
SSA Project # UM10-03
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-244

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Many proposals designed to reduce federal budget deficits include retirement policy reforms that would delay workers' access to retirement benefits or reduce the value of benefits to those who retire early. Such reforms would have adverse consequences for the economic well-being of older workers with health-related work limitations. In this paper, we explore a set of policy options that take a "work-support" approach-an earned income tax credit (EITC), an employment services allowance, and a health insurance subsidy designed to encourage and help workers continue to work if they can. To arrive at a population that might be eligible for such benefits, we first develop a straightforward model to predict the likelihood that a worker reporting a health-related work limitation would experience economic hardship as a result. The model bounds the target population by excluding those who are not expected to experience financial hardship from earnings loss due to a health-related work limitation. It also demonstrates an approach to eligibility determination that would discourage gaming and support rapid eligibility determination-critical for a program designed to extend employment and prevent financial hardship.
Using conservative assumptions about program costs, our most expensive program would have a per capita cost of $14,600, or $11,300 if the health insurance subsidy is viewed as an ACA cost. This can be compared to estimated mean annual benefits of $14,855 in 2009 for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries age 50 and older, plus $11,000 per year for Medicare after the 24-month waiting period. Because of its more favorable work incentives, a work-support program is likely to reduce hardship more than a program that preserves existing benefits for the same workers at comparable cost and is likely to be no more difficult to administer.

November 2010

Is the Reduction in Older Workers' Job Tenure a Cause for Concern?

by Steven A. Sass and Anthony Webb
SSA Project # BC10-03
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-20

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Using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), we analyze trends in voluntary, pressured, and forced quits and risk factors associated with each type of quit. We show that leaving one's age-50 job between ages 50 and 56 in any of the above circumstances more than doubles the likelihood that an individual will be working part-time at age 60, relative to a base case of working full time. Pressured and forced quits also substantially increase the likelihood that the individual will not be working for pay at that age. Statistical tests confirm that pressured quits represent a separate and distinct category with its own risk factors and that they cannot be regarded as a subset of either voluntary or forced quits.
We further show that job loss between age 50 and 56, regardless of the circumstances, is associated with "messy" post-displacement employment histories that are not fully captured by analyses that focus solely on the first post-displacement job. The effects of job displacement are long-lasting. Displaced workers are more likely to job-hop, to suffer further involuntary job losses, and to experience subsequent unemployment than those who were still working for their age-50 employer at age 56.
Accumulating sufficient resources to provide an adequate income in retirement requires most individuals to work well into their 60s, preferably in well-paid, pensioned employment. Individuals who separate from their age-50 employer for whatever reason are at risk of missing out on their peak savings years and failing to prepare adequately for retirement.

Occupational Learning, Financial Knowledge, and the Accumulation of Retirement Wealth

by Brooke Helppie, Kandice A. Kapinos, and Robert J. Willis
SSA Project # UM10-08
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-237

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This study explores the relationship between general human capital investment, financial knowledge, occupational spillovers, and the accumulation of wealth in a primarily descriptive manner. Drawing upon human capital theory and following previous related work by Delavande, Rohwedder and Willis (2008), we hypothesized that individuals with daily exposure to financial knowledge through their occupation would benefit by having greater financial knowledge that would translate into greater wealth accumulation than individuals who do not enjoy such spillovers from their occupation. Using data from the Cognitive Economics Study and the Health and Retirement Study, we find strong evidence that individuals in financial occupations tend to have greater financial knowledge and moderate evidence that they also have greater wealth accumulation.

Recessions, Wealth Destruction, and the Timing of Retirement

by Barry P. Bosworth and Gary Burtless
SSA Project # BC10-07
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-22

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Recessions affect the timing of retirement through two channels, a weaker job market and losses in household wealth. The two phenomena have opposite effects. A weaker economy causes employers to increase permanent job separations and reduce new hires, accelerating retirements that would otherwise have occurred later. Falling household wealth reduces the resources available to pay for retirement, discouraging older workers from leaving the. workforce. We use aggregate and micro-census data on old-age labor supply as well as time series data on unemployment, stock and bond returns, and house appreciation to estimate business cycle effects on social security benefit acceptance and labor force exit. Trailing real stock and bond returns and house price appreciation have statistically significant but very small effects on old-age labor force participation. High prime-age unemployment has only a small impact on benefit acceptance and labor force participation among older women, but the effects on older men are greater. We estimate that the 4.6 percentage-point increase in prime-age unemployment between 2007 and 2009 reduced the participation rate of 60–74-year-old men by between 0.8 and 1.7 percentage points. This effect has offset the impact of declining household wealth on old-age labor force participation.

What Is the Impact of Foreclosures on Retirement Security?

by Irena Dushi, Leora Friedberg, and Anthony Webb
SSA Project # BC10-10
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-17

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Using data from several sources, we show that households nearing retirement have lower rates of housing distress than younger households, as measured by arrears and foreclosure rates. However, almost all of the housing wealth gains observed for cohorts aged 51–56 between 1992 and 2004 were erased by 2010, while their mortgages have grown throughout. As a consequence, their loan-to-value ratios are considerably higher, though the percentage paying more than 30 percent of their household income towards their mortgage remains flat. Worrisomely, their financial wealth also declined between 2004 and 2010. Declines in house prices will adversely affect households that need to liquidate housing wealth, and rising mortgage obligations will increase pressure on retirement resources. We develop an econometric model to show factors associated with housing distress and then use the results to forecast housing distress among older households through 2012. We project that the risk of arrears will increase to 3.4 percent in 2010 and 4.4 percent by 2012. We also find that 6.7 percent of HRS households have children or other relatives who are facing housing distress, potentially putting further pressure on their retirement preparedness.

October 2010

Accounting for Disability Insurance in the Dynamic Relationship Between Disability Onset and Earnings

by Perry Singleton
SSA Project # BC10-15
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-19

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The onset of a work-limiting disability coincides with an immediate decline in earnings with little recovery. This study examines whether this relationship is attributable to the labor disincentives of disability insurance. The data come from the Survey of Income and Program Participation linked to administrative data from the Social Security Administration. The analysis suggests that disability insurance accounts for little of the initial drop in earnings at the time of disability onset, but its effect may increase as time since disability onset elapses. The results highlight the advantages of immediate, though temporary disability benefits.

The Asset Cost of Poor Health

by Steven Venti and David A. Wise
SSA Project # NB10-06
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 16389

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This paper examines the correlation between poor health and asset accumulation for households in the first nine waves of the Health and Retirement Survey. Rather than enumerating the specific costs of poor health, such as out of pocket medical expenses or lost earnings, we estimate how the evolution of household assets is related to poor health. We construct a simple measure of health status based on the first principal component of HRS survey responses on self-reported health status, diagnoses, ADLs, IADL, and other indicators of underlying health. Our estimates suggest large and substantively important correlations between poor health and asset accumulation. We compare persons in each 1992 asset quintile who were in the top third of the 1992 distribution of latent health with those in the same 1992 asset quintile who were in the bottom third of the latent health distribution. By 2008, those in the top third of the health distribution had accumulated, on average, more than 50 percent more assets than those in the bottom third of the health distribution. This "asset cost of poor health" appears to be larger for persons with substantial 1992 asset balances than for those with lower balances.

Asset Cycles and the Retirement Decisions of Older Workers

by Jan Ondrich
SSA Project # BC09-03 • Macroeconomic Analyses of Social Security
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-13

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To determine how asset values of older workers affect their future retirement decisions, it is important to take into account how asset values change over asset cycles. This study uses HRS data from waves 1992 through 2008 together with restricted SSA data on geographic location to estimate a model of the age at first self-reported retirement for the subsample of married males. The model covariates include demographic variables, workplace variables, non-housing financial wealth, housing equity and size of mortgage. The proportional hazard estimates are, for the most part, significant and of the correct sign. The estimated models replicate the decisions of the sample members for the period from 2000 to 2007. The models do not replicate the sharp drop in the aggregate retirement rate in the year 2008, the final year of the sample, which is also the first sample year in which non-housing financial wealth and housing equity both declined throughout the United States.

Children and Household Utility: Evidence From Kids Flying the Coop

by Norma B. Coe and Anthony Webb
SSA Project # BC10-09
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-16

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Using consumption and wealth data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), this paper explores the impact of children leaving home on household consumption. We find that households maintain their household-level consumption, despite the fact that the number of individuals in the household has decreased, increasing per-capita consumption. Further, we find no evidence of increases in total net wealth, or any of its components, after children leave the household. These findings suggest that households do not dramatically change their savings or consumption patterns when their children fly the coop. Those households who are already behind in their retirement preparations will remain at risk of entering retirement with insufficient wealth to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living.

Cognitive Ability and Retiree Health Care Expenditure

by Hanming Fang, Lauren Nicholas, and Dan Silverman
SSA Project # UM10-20
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-230

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Prior research indicates that retirees with less cognitive ability are at greater financial risk because they have lower incomes yet higher medical expenditures. Linking HRS data to administrative records, we evaluate two hypotheses about why this group spends more on health: (1) they are in worse health; (2) they receive more expensive or less effective care for the same conditions. We find that the bulk, but not all, of the cross-sectional relationship can be attributed to the poorer health of those with lower cognitive functioning. Much of this relationship appears to be driven by coincident declines in cognitive ability and health. While, in this respect, the data have important limitations, we find no evidence of substantial differences in care, conditional on observable health.

Effect of Informal Care on Work, Wages, and Wealth

by Courtney Harold Van Houtven, Norma B. Coe, and Meghan Skira
SSA Project # BC10-02
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-23

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Cross-sectional evidence in the U.S. finds that informal caregivers have less attachment to the labor force. However, the causal mechanism is unclear: do children who work less become informal caregivers, or are children who become caregivers working less? Using longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), this project identifies the relationship between informal care and labor force participation, both on the intensive and extensive margins, and whether there are wage penalties from informal care. We use our results to examine retirement wealth effects, in particular, changes in Social Security benefits. In our approach we carefully test for endogeneity; control for time invariant individual heterogeneity; and explore the effects across stage and duration of care for men and women. We find that there are modest decreases—around two percentage points—in the likelihood of being in the labor force for caregivers. We find that female caregivers with longer spells face significant but modest risks of not working; the negative effect on work for male caregivers occurs right away; and that neither male nor female caregivers who stop caregiving are not significantly more likely to work. In addition, wage penalties exist for female caregivers and wage premiums exist for male caregivers. There are minimal effects to caregivers' expected Social Security benefits. Finally, despite strong instruments, there is no evidence of endogeneity between informal care and work, suggesting that controlling for individual heterogeneity with fixed effects is a sufficient approach in longitudinal inquiries of informal care's effect on work and wealth.

The Effects of Medicaid and Medicare Reforms on the Elderly's Savings and Medical Expenditures

by Mariacristina De Nardi, Eric French, and John Bailey Jones
SSA Project # UM10-16
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-236

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We study a model in which retired single people optimally choose consumption, medical spending and saving while facing uncertainty about their health, lifespan and medical needs. This uncertainty is partially offset by insurance provided by the government and private institutions. We first show how well the model matches important features of the data and we analyze the degree of insurance provided by current programs. We then analyze the effects of some reforms, meant to capture changes in Medicaid and Medicare, on savings and medical expenditures.

Geographic Dispersion and the Well-being of the Elderly

by Suzanne Bianchi, Kathleen McGarry, and Judith Seltzer
SSA Project # UM10-15
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-234

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Perhaps the largest problem confronting our aging population is the rising cost of health care, particularly the costs borne by Medicare and Medicaid. A chief component of this expense is long-term care. Much of this care for an unmarried (mostly widowed) mother is currently provided by adult children. The provision of family care depends importantly on the geographic dispersion of family members. In this study we provide preliminary evidence on the geographic dispersion of adult children and their older unmarried mother. Coresidence is less likely for married adult children, those who are parents and the highly educated and more likely for those who are not working or only employed part time and for black and Hispanic adult children. Close proximity is more common for married children who are parents but less common for the highly educated. When we look at transitions between one wave of data collection and the next (a 2-year interval), about half of adult children live more than 10 miles away at both points, a little less than one quarter live within 10 miles at both points, and 8 percent are coresident at both points in time. Among the 17 percent who make a transition, about half of the changes result in greater distance between the adult child and mother and half bring them into closer proximity. The needs of both generations are likely reflected in these transitions. In fact, a mother's health is not strongly related to most transitions and if anything, distance tends to be greater for older mothers relative to those mothers in their early 50s.

How Common Is "Parking" Among SSDI Beneficiaries? Evidence from the 1999 Change in the Level of Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

by Jody Schimmel, David C. Stapleton, and Jae Song
SSA Project # UM09-02 • Social Security and Retirement
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-220

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Fewer Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries have their earnings suspended or terminated because of work than those who are actually working, partly because beneficiaries "park" earnings at a level below substantial gainful activity (SGA) to retain benefits. We assess the extent of parking by examining how beneficiary earnings and months off the rolls for work responded to a 1999 change in the SGA level for non-blind beneficiaries from $500 to $700 per month. Specifically, our difference-in-difference analysis compares longitudinal data for two beneficiary cohorts with different incentives to park their earnings; one experienced the increased SGA level the first year after its Trial Work Period (TWP), when beneficiaries can earn any amount without losing benefits, while the two-year-earlier cohort did not. The impact of the increased SGA level is consistent with parking, but its magnitude small. The reduction in TWP completers with earnings less than $500 was 1.0 percentage points, the reduction in the percentage with earnings over $700 was 1.2 percentage points, and the increase for those with earnings between $500 and $700 was 2.2 percentage points. However, there was no change in mean earnings; small increases for those with relatively low earnings were offset by reductions for those with relatively high earnings. The SGA increase had a significant negative effect on the average number of months that beneficiaries were off the rolls for work; the effect was largest?about six-tenths of a month?for those who earned $500 to $700 during in year they completed their TWP.

How Does the Personal Income Tax Affect the Progressivity of OASI Benefits?

by Norma B. Coe, Richard Kopcke, and Alicia Munnell
SSA Project # BC11-01 • Social Security and Retirement
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2011-21

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This project will calculate the impact of federal income taxes on the progressivity of the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) program, a factor currently omitted from the literature. We will use Health and Retirement Study (HRS) data linked with the Social Security Earnings Records to estimate OASI contributions and benefits for individuals and households, before and after income taxes. We will use these estimates to recalculate the extent to which the OASI program redistributes income. This project will provide information needed to evaluate the net progressivity of the OASI program and to assess the merits of various reform options.

How Financial Literacy and Impatience Shape Retirement Wealth and Investment Behaviors

by Justine Hastings and Olivia S. Mitchell
SSA Project # UM10-11
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-233

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Two competing explanations for why consumers have trouble with financial decisions are gaining momentum. One is that people are financially illiterate since they lack understanding of simple economic concepts and cannot carry out computations such as computing compound interest, which could cause them to make suboptimal financial decisions. A second is that impatience or present-bias might explain suboptimal financial decisions. That is, some people persistently choose immediate gratification instead of taking advantage of larger long-term payoffs. We use experimental evidence from Chile to explore how these factors appear related to poor financial decisions. Our results show that our measure of impatience is a strong predictor of wealth and investment in health. Financial literacy is also correlated with wealth though it appears to be a weaker predictor of sensitivity to framing in investment decisions. Policymakers interested in enhancing retirement wellbeing would do well to consider the importance of these factors.

Intergenerational Transfers in the Health and Retirement Study Data

by John Laitner and Amanda Sonnega
SSA Project # UM10-14
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-238

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Many economic analyses of public policy issues are based upon the lifecycle model of household behavior. The usual formulation omits private intergenerational transfers. This paper considers the possibility of a more sophisticated formulation that includes the latter. We examine 1992–2008 HRS data on inheritances and inter vivos gifts. We uncover a problem with the data: a household's financial respondent often seems to understate transfers from his/her in-laws. Nevertheless, other aspects of the data seem very useful. About 30–40 percent of households eventually inherit. Inheritances seem to reflect a mixture of intentional and accidental bequests, with the latter twice as prevalent.

Measuring the Spill-over to Disability Insurance Due to the Rise in the Full Retirement Age

by Norma B. Coe and Kelly Haverstick
SSA Project # BC10-13
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-21

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The increase in the full retirement age in the Social Security program provides exogenous variation in the generosity in the Disability Insurance program, based only on birth year. We exploit this variation to estimate how responsive SSDI applications are to the financial incentive to apply. We find that a one percentage point decrease in the retirement-to-disability benefit ratio leads to a 0.25 percentage point increase in the DI application rate for the sample, which represents an 8 percent increase in applications per 2 years. When weighted to account for sampling design, we estimate that this change in the financial incentive accounted for about 5 percent of the SSDI applications in 2009. However, we do not find a corresponding increase in SSDI receipt based on the financial incentives. In addition, we find little difference in the covariates for individuals who eventually receive SSDI, suggesting that the increase in applications may increase the administrative costs of the SSDI program, but should not have a dramatic impact on the long-term financial solvency of the program.

Personality, Lifetime Earnings, and Retirement Wealth

by Angela Lee Duckworth and David R. Weir
SSA Project # UM10-13
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-235

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Studies of adolescents and young adults have shown that schooling impacts economic outcomes beyond its impact on cognitive ability. Research has also shown that the personality trait of conscientiousness predicts health outcomes, academic outcomes, and divorce. Using the Big Five taxonomy of personality traits, this study examines whether non-cognitive traits are related to economic success over the life course. Examining Health and Retirement Study survey data linked to Social Security records on over 10,000 adults age 50 and over, we investigate the relationship of personality traits to economic outcomes. Controlling for cognitive ability and background variables, do more conscientious and emotionally stable adults have higher lifetime earnings, and is this due to higher annual earnings, longer work lives, or both? Do more conscientious adults save a higher proportion of their earnings for retirement, and does conscientiousness of each partner in a married couple matter? Do conscientiousness and emotional stability interact such that the effects of conscientiousness are greater among less emotionally stable adults?

Reconciling Findings on the Employment Effect of Disability Insurance

by John Bound, Stephan Lindner, and Timothy Waidmann
SSA Project # UM09-01 • Social Security and Retirement
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-239

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Over the last 25 years the Social Security Disability Insurance Program (DI) has grown dramatically. During the same period of time employment rates for men with work limitations showed substantial declines in both absolute and relative terms. While the timing of these trends suggests that the expansion of DI was a major contributor to employment decline and raises questions about the targeting of disability benefits, studies using denied applicants suggest a more modest role for DI expansion. In order to reconcile these findings, we decompose total employment changes into population and employment changes for three categories: DI beneficiaries, denied applicants and non-applicants. Our results show that during the early 1990s, the growth in DI can fully explain the employment decline for men only under an extreme assumption about the employment potential of beneficiaries. For the period after the mid-1990s, we find little role for the DI program in explaining the continuing employment decline for men with work limitations.

The Social Security Early Retirement Benefit as Safety Net

by John Bound and Timothy Waidman
SSA Project # UM10-02
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-240

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In this paper we used the Health and Retirement Study to examine the health and economic status of those who collect Social Security retirement benefits prior to the full retirement age. We used a propensity score reweighting method to estimate the fraction of early retirees who uses early retirement benefits as a safety net against deteriorating health and who might be induced to apply for disability benefits (SSDI) or retire without income replacement if the generosity or availability of early retirement benefits were reduced. We find that while the majority of early retirees would likely not qualify for disability benefits, approximately one in five have health characteristics similar to SSDI beneficiaries, and thus might not be able to replace losses in benefit income with labor income.

State Wage-Payment Laws, the Pension Protection Act of 2006 and 401(k) Saving Behavior

by Gary V. Engelhardt
SSA Project # BC10-11
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-14

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I show that state wage-payment laws, which forbid deductions from wages and salaries without the written permission of the employee, constituted a binding constraint on firms' choices to adopt automatic enrollment in 401(k) plans prior to 2006. Since the passage of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, which clarified the legality of auto-enroll plans and superseded these state laws, 401(k) participation has been higher in states that previously required written permission.

The Treatment of Married Women by the Social Security Retirement Program

by Andrew G. Biggs, Gayle L. Reznik, and Nada O. Eissa
SSA Project # BC10-05
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-18

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It is generally accepted that the Social Security program pays women a higher average ratio of lifetime benefits to lifetime taxes than it does men. Social Security's progressive benefit structure and annuity payment combine with women's lower average earnings and longer average life spans to provide women with more favorable treatment on a lifetime basis. This more favorable treatment does not necessarily imply that women are presented with stronger incentives to participate in the labor force and contribute to Social Security than are men. If anything, Social Security's does the opposite. The auxiliary benefit provisions, including spousal and widow's benefits, mean that many women do not receive higher benefits in return for their contributions than they would have received had they never worked or contributed to the program. In this paper, we calculate two measures of treatment by Social Security using the SSA's Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) micro-simulation model: the net tax rate, which reflects the net value of Social Security taxes and benefits as a percentage of lifetime earnings; and the generated net tax rate, which represents the net value of benefits received in return for a participant's taxes relative to lifetime earnings. While women pay low and even negative average net taxes to Social Security, their generated net tax rates are higher and often equal the full statutory tax rate. Men, by contrast, pay higher net tax rates but lower generated net tax rates, as their earnings may generate additional benefits for their spouse or survivor. The work incentives presented by Social Security may differ significantly from those implied by measures of overall treatment by the program.

September 2010

Consumption and Income of the Poor Elderly Since 1960

by uce D. Meyer and James X. Sullivan
SSA Project # NB10-08
National Bureau of Economic Research

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We examine changes in material well-being among individuals 65 and over during the last five decades, focusing on poverty and low percentiles of income and consumption, housing quality, and durable ownership. Our analyses make many methodological improvements in the measurement of income and consumption for those with few resources. We answer three related research questions. First, how has poverty and well-being changed among those 65 and over during the past five decades? Second, for which groups of elderly have the changes in consumption and income been the most pronounced? Third, what are the proximate causes of the changes in poverty and low percentiles? In particular, what is the role played by changes in the demographic composition of the elderly, taxes, transfers, household savings, and the ownership of durables such as houses and cars? The consumption data show much greater improvement over time than do the income data. This pattern of greater improvement in consumption is even more striking for poverty gaps, deep poverty, and relative poverty. Low percentiles of consumption have risen sharply in recent years, much faster than the same percentiles of income. Housing quality and durable ownership have increased sharply over time for those at the bottom of the income and consumption distributions. We find that the sharp differences in income poverty by age have narrowed over time, and for consumption-based poverty they narrow further. Sharp differences in income poverty by gender continue, but have almost disappeared for consumption poverty. In analyzing these trends, how one accounts for price changes has a large affect on the results. Demographics (other than education) do not play a large role in explaining the patterns, nor do taxes and in-kind transfers, but changes in social security benefits play a large role.

The Effect of Local Employment Changes on the Incidence, Timing, and Duration of Applications to Social Security Disability Insurance

by Till von Wachter
SSA Project # NB10-13
National Bureau of Economic Research

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While a growing literature confirms that applications to Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) increase when conditions in the labor market worsen, less is known about how such conditions interact with characteristics of the screening process. Similarly, little is known about the effect of labor market conditions on the screening process itself. This project analyzes the effect of predicted changes in county employment rates on the application pattern and adjudication process of DI. The findings suggest that while employment declines raise DI application rates and lower labor force participation rates, the effect is smaller in the early 2000s than in the early 1990s. It also appears that the fraction of applications allowed at the level of Disability Determination Service (DDS) office allowance rates experience a substantial decline when applications rise due to a decline in employment. At the same time, the duration of screening of DI applications at the DDS-level rises somewhat. This implies that part of the applicants induced to apply by economic shocks are screened out during the initial stages of the adjudication process, and ensuing congestion appears weak. There is also some evidence that DDS offices with higher average screening duration receive fewer applications when local employment drops. Yet, potential applicants so dissuaded from applying after an employment decline do not appear to return to the labor force.

The Effect of the Risk of Out-of-Pocket Spending for Health Care on Economic Preparation for Retirement

by Michael D. Hurd
SSA Project # UM10-18
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-232

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After retirement, the primary sources of uncertainty with respect to an individual's economic status are longevity, investment outcomes and out-of-pocket spending on health care. In previous work, we estimated economic preparation for retirement, taking into account the risk of living to an advanced old age and the concomitant risk of running out of resources. But while we accounted for the average level out-of-pocket spending for health care, we did not account for the risk of out-of-pocket spending. In this paper we augment our model for this omission. We find that the risk of out-of-pocket health care spending reduces economic preparation for retirement from about 72% of persons in the age range 65–69 to about 63%. However, this relatively modest reduction is quite unequally distributed: about 57% of single persons are adequately prepared when health care spending is not stochastic, but just 44% when it is. Among single women who are not high school graduates the percentage adequately prepared declines from 33% to 15%.

The Effects of the Economic Crisis on the Older Population

by Michael D. Hurd
SSA Project # UM10-06
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-231

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We study the effects of the 2007–2009 recession on the population age 55 and older. Households in and near retirement have suffered sizeable losses in assets as a result of the economic crisis. There are a number of ways in which households might respond: reduce spending and with that increase saving, work longer, and/or bequeath less. Using longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study and its supplemental surveys, we find that all of these adjustments have been important.

The Effects of the Financial Crisis on the Well-Being of Older Americans: Evidence from the Cognitive Economics Study

by Matthew D. Shapiro
SSA Project # UM10-07
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-228

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This paper uses the Cognitive Economics Study (CogEcon) to assess the effect of the financial crisis on the well-being of older Americans. Financial wealth fell by about 15 percent for the median household. These financial losses were concentrated among households with high levels of wealth and high cognitive capacities, who tend to have higher exposure to the stock market. Nonetheless, households with little financial wealth suffered declines in well-being—measured by declines in consumption—as large on average as households with substantial exposure to the stock market. Tight credit market conditions and adverse labor market outcomes account for much of the effect of the financial crisis on the consumption of these low-wealth households.

Financial Capability in the United States: Consumer Decision-Making and the Role of Social Security

by Annamaria Lusardi
SSA Project # UM10-22 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-226

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This paper analyzes new data from the 2009 National Financial Capability Study. This survey provides information to assess how American households make financial decisions, how they are faring under current economic conditions, and in what ways financial knowledge contributes to financial capability. In addition, it includes data about the information that the Social Security Administration (SSA) provides to consumers. The paper finds that the majority of individuals do not plan for retirement or make provisions against shocks. Debt management often results in sizable interest payments and fees and it is notable how many individuals have used high-cost methods of borrowing in the past five years. Levels of financial knowledge are strikingly low and many respondents do not possess knowledge of basic concepts. Social Security has taken steps to provide information about what individuals will expect to receive when they retire. The self-reported evidence provided in the survey shows that the information has been used by about a quarter of the population who acknowledge receiving the statement. Moreover, there are large differences among use in demographic groups and some of the more vulnerable populations, such as African-Americans, those hit by shocks, and single and separated individuals are more likely to use the statement.

Financial Knowledge and Financial Literacy at the Household Level

by Alan L. Gustman, Thomas L. Steinmeier, and Nahid Tabatabai
SSA Project # UM10-12
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-223

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This paper uses data from the Health and Retirement Study to explore the mechanism that underlies the robust relation found in the literature between cognitive ability, and in particular numeracy, and wealth, income constant. We have a number of findings. First, the more valuable the pension, the more knowledgeable are covered workers about their pensions. We suggest that causality is more likely to run from pension wealth to pension knowledge, rather than the other way around. Second, most measures of cognitive ability, including numeracy, are not significant determinants of pension and Social Security knowledge. Third, standardizing for incomes and other factors, a pension of higher value does not substitute for other forms of wealth. Rather, counting pensions in total wealth, those with more valuable pensions save more for retirement, other things the same. Fourth, there is no evidence that wealth held outside of pensions is influenced by knowledge of pensions. In sum, numeracy does not influence wealth in whole or in part by affecting financial knowledge of one's pension plan, where financial knowledge of the pension then influences other decisions about retirement saving. These findings raise questions about the mechanism that underlies the relation between cognition, especially numeracy, and wealth. From a policy perspective, they suggest that the numeracy-wealth relation should not be taken as evidence that increasing financial literacy will increase the wealth of households as they enter into retirement

The Growth in Social Security Benefits Among the Retirement Age Population from Increases in the Cap on Covered Earnings

by Alan L. Gustman, Thomas L. Steinmeier, and Nahid Tabatabai
SSA Project # UM10-21
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-227

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This paper investigates how increases over time in maximum earnings subject to the Social Security payroll tax have affected Social Security benefits and taxes. The analysis uses data from the Health and Retirement Study to ask how different the present value of own benefits and taxes would be for the cohort born from 1948 to 1953 if they faced the lower cap on earnings subject to the payroll tax that faced those born twelve and twenty four years earlier. After adjusting for nominal wage growth, compared to cohorts twelve and twenty four years older, benefits were increased by 1.5 percent and 3.7 percent by the increase in the payroll tax ceiling. Tax receipts were increased by 5.3 and 10.6 percent over tax receipts that would have been collected under the tax ceilings that applied to the cohorts 12 and 24 years older respectively. Thus about 22 percent of the additional tax revenues created by the increase in the payroll tax cap between the Early Boomer cohort and those 12 years older is used to increase benefits. Similarly, about 27 percent of the additional tax revenues created by the increase in the payroll tax cap between the Early Boomer cohort and those 24 years older is used to increase benefits. Results are presented separately for men and women, for those in the top quartile of earners, and for those at the tax ceiling in 2004.

Health and Wealth in a Life Cycle Model

by John Karl Scholz and Ananth Seshadri
SSA Project # UM10-19
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-224

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This paper presents a preliminary model of health investments over the life cycle. Health affects both longevity and provides flow utility. We analyze the interplay between consumption choices and investments in health by solving each household's dynamic optimization problem to obtain predictions on health investments and consumption choices over the lifecycle. Our preliminary model does a good job of matching the distribution of medical expenses across households in the sample. We illustrate the scope of future model applications by examining the effects of a stylized Medicare program on patterns of wealth and mortality.

How Do Long-Run Financial Planning Expectations and Decisions Respond to Short-Run Fluctuations in Financial Markets?

by Gopi Shah Goda and John B. Shoven
SSA Project # NB10-17
National Bureau of Economic Research

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While media reports predicted substantial changes in labor supply behavior due to the sharp decline in the value of the stock market in October 2008, empirical evidence on the relationship between equity markets and retirement is mixed. We use panel data from the Health and Retirement Study to investigate the relationship between stock market performance and plans for retirement during 1998–2008, a period that includes the recent financial crisis, by exploiting within-year variation in the S&P 500 index across plausibly exogenous dates of interview. While we do detect a statistically significant negative relationship between the reported probability of working full-time at age 62 and the S&P 500 index in the most recent years of our study period, we do not find strong evidence that changes in equity markets influence changes in retirement plans over the period as a whole. We conclude that the higher probabilities of working reported in recent years were likely due to factors other than stock market performance, such as pessimism about economic security more generally.

How General Are Risk Preferences? Choices Under Uncertainty in Different Domains

by Liran Einav, Amy Finkelstein, Iuliana Pascu, and Mark R. Cullen
SSA Project # NB10-12
National Bureau of Economic Research

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We examine the extent to which an individual's actual insurance and investment choices display a stable ranking in willingness to bear risk, relative to his peers, across different contexts. We do so by examining the same individuals' decisions regarding their 401(k) asset allocations and their choices in five different employer-provided insurance domains, including health and disability insurance. We reject the null that there is no domain-general component of preferences. Among the five insurance domains, the magnitude of the domain-general component of preferences appears substantial; we find for example that one's choices in other insurance domains are substantially more predictive of one's choice in a given insurance domain than either one's detailed demographic characteristics or one's claims experience in that domain. However, we find considerably less predictive power between one's insurance choices and the riskiness of one's 401(k) asset allocations, suggesting that the common element of an individual's preferences may be stronger among domains that are "closer" in context. We also find that the relationship between insurance and investment choices appears considerably larger for employees who may be associated with better financial sophistication. Overall, we view our findings as largely consistent with an important domain-general component of risk preferences.

The Impact of 401(k) Loans on Saving

by John Beshears, James J. Choi, David Laibson, and Brigitte C. Madrian
SSA Project # NB09-05 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Although the popular press and politicians often describe 401(k) loans as a problem, classical economic theory has a more benign view. Loans from a 401(k) can relax liquidity constraints and increase household utility. Moreover, loan provisions may have the subtle effect of raising net asset accumulation by making 401(k) participation more appealing: employees who can access their 401(k) assets if they need them may be willing to put more money into an otherwise illiquid 401(k) account. Our research suggests that 401(k) loans are neither a blessing nor a bogeyman. Conditional on borrowing to finance consumption, we show that a 401(k) loan may be a reasonable source of credit in many circumstances. We further show that the net impact of 401(k) loans on asset accumulation is likely to be small (and could be either positive or negative) for a reasonable range of parameter assumptions.

Incomes in the Transition to Retirement: Evidence from Canada

by Kevin Milligan
SSA Project # NB10-09 • International Research
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Countries around the world are considering an increase to retirement ages in response to fiscal and demographic pressure on social security systems. However, concern may arise about the impact of such reforms on those who retire before the age of full social security entitlement. This paper addresses the question of how those stopping work before the age of benefit entitlement source their incomes and the extent to which they are able to avoid economic hardship. To do so, I study panels of Canadian men between 1993 and 2008 drawn from the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics. The data allow a very detailed composition of income by source using a high quality income survey with annual information. These data are employed to make a novel calculation—determining the contribution of various supplemental income sources to lifting those not working at older ages out of a position of hardship. I find that demographic, health, and job characteristics are not very predictive of early retirement, and that those who retire early before the age of public pension entitlement are a very diverse group. Over half of the early retiring men I study who initially seem to suffer hardship before benefit entitlement are lifted out of hardship when other resources are accounted for.

Inflation Bets or Deflation Hedges? The Changing Risks of Nominal Bonds

by John Y. Campbell, Adi Sunderam, and Luis M. Viceira
SSA Project # NB10-04
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 14701

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The covariance between U.S. Treasury bond returns and stock returns has moved considerably over time. While it was slightly positive on average in the period 1953–2009, it was unusually high in the early 1980's and negative in the 2000's, particularly in the downturns of 2001–2002 and 2008–2009. This paper specifies and estimates a model in which the nominal term structure of interest rates is driven by five state variables: the real interest rate, risk aversion, temporary and permanent components of expected inflation, and the "nominal-real covariance" of inflation and the real interest rate with the real economy. The last of these state variables enables the model to fit the changing covariance of bond and stock returns. Log bond yields and term premia are quadratic in these state variables, with term premia determined mainly by the product of risk aversion and the nominal-real covariance. The concavity of the yield curve—the level of intermediate-term bond yields, relative to the average of short- and long-term bond yields—is a good proxy for the level of term premia. The nominal-real covariance has declined since the early 1980's, driving down term premia.

Investor Decisions and the Financial Crisis in Mexico's Privatized Social Security Market

by Justine Hastings
SSA Project # NB10-03 • International Research
National Bureau of Economic Research

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(No abstract available.)

Is the High Level of Obesity in the United States Related to Its Low Life Expectancy?

by Samuel H. Preston and Andrew Stokes
SSA Project # NB10-01
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This paper investigates the effect of obesity on the life expectancy gap between the United States and other developed countries. We perform primary analyses of survey data to identify the distribution of body mass index (BMI) by age and sex in 16 countries. The United States has the highest proportion obese of any population considered. These BMI distributions are combined with three alternative sets of mortality risks by BMI in order to estimate the proportion of deaths attributable to above-optimal weight, by age and sex. These estimates are then converted into their implications for longevity. Our baseline analysis uses the largest, longest, and most internationally diverse collection of obesity risks, the Prospective Studies Collaboration. Using this set of risks, we estimate that U.S. life expectancy at age 50 in 2006 was reduced by 1.29 years for women and 1.61 years for men as a result of obesity. Using obesity risks that were recorded more recently in the United States, the reduction is in the range of 0.6–0.9 years. Even using these lower risks, we find that differences in obesity account for a fifth to a third of the shortfall of life expectancy in the U.S. relative to longer-lived countries.

The Joint Labor Supply Decision of Married Couples and the Social Security Pension System

by Shinichi Nishiyama
SSA Project # UM10-23
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-229

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The current U.S. Social Security program redistributes resources from high wage workers to low wage workers and from two-earner couples to one-earner couples. The present paper extends a standard general-equilibrium overlapping-generations model with uninsurable wage shocks to analyze the effect of spousal and survivors benefits on the labor supply of married couples. The heterogeneous-agent model calibrated to the 2009 U.S. economy predicts that removing spousal and survivors benefits would increase female market work hours by 4.3–4.9% and total output by 1.1–1.5% in the long run, depending on the government financing assumption. If the increased tax revenue due to higher economic activity after the policy change was redistributed in a lumpsum manner, a phased-in cohort-by-cohort removal of these benefits would make all current and future age cohorts on average better off.

The Limitations of Defaults

by John Beshears, James J. Choi, David Laibson, and Brigitte  C. Madrian
SSA Project # NB10-02
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Prior research has demonstrated that defaults have a powerful influence on economic outcomes in a wide range of settings because individuals often passively accept default options. This paper examines the degree to which defaults become less powerful as they become more extreme. We study a firm with a defined contribution retirement savings plan in which employees are automatically enrolled at a 12% contribution rate, a rate that is considerably higher than those studied in previous work. In addition, the default contribution rate is suboptimal for all employees because the firm only matches employee contributions between 12% and 18% of pay. Approximately one-quarter of employees at this firm remain at the default contribution rate after twelve months of tenure, while the comparable fraction for firms with more modest defaults is more than 60%. We also find that employees who remain at the default contribution rate after 12 months of tenure have lower incomes than would be predicted by the incomes of employees who actively choose neighboring contribution rates. This evidence suggests that defaults are more influential for low-income employees than for high-income employees because low-income individuals generally face higher barriers to active decision-making.

Mortgage Contract Decisions and Mortgage Distress: Family and Financial Life Cycle Factors

by Frank P. Stafford
SSA Project # UM10-09
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-225

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Following the dramatic rise in the price of owner occupied housing in the U.S. during 1999–2007, a precipitous decline set in during 2007–2009. Data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), 1999–2009 are used to identify the factors shaping borrowing decisions during the run up in housing prices. How did these diverse positions in owner-occupied housing relate to the subsequent difficulties and mortgage distress as of 2009? Much of both the rise and subsequent difficulties was concentrated among minorities, and among younger and less educated homeowners. Difficulties were also concentrated in selected real estate markets where homeowners were allocating a substantial share of their income to debt service and other home related outlays such as taxes, utilities, and insurance. Households age 65 and older participated in the housing cycle, with the percent holding a mortgage rising from about 20 percent in the 1990's to about 30 percent by 2003. A result of the boom was high costs to support a housing position. This can be interpreted as the result of a speculative price run up supported by the joint decisions of the homeowners and their lenders and was substantially concentrated in a select number of urban markets. In this process the older population took on a riskier position in the housing market than in prior years and now has less capacity to weather economic shocks or to support other adult family members living outside the home.

Optimal Portfolio Choice over the Life Cycle with Epstein-Zin-Weil Preferences and G-and-H Distribution

by Jialun Li and Kent Smetters
SSA Project # NB10-15
National Bureau of Economic Research

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In this paper we develop a lifecycle model to solve numerically for the optimal consumption and portfolio rules of households who face uninsurable labor income uncertainty, mortality risk, and borrowing constraints. We incorporate generalized utility forms (Epstein-Zin-Weil utility) and generalized stock return shock distribution (g-and-h distribution). The flexibility of our model enables us to match the empirical stock/bond ratio and wealth/income ratio.

Political Risk and Discount Rates: Evidence from the Croatian Pension System

by Jeffrey R. Brown, Zoran Ivkovic, and Scott Weisbenner
SSA Project # NB10-07 • International Research
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Many transactions between citizens and government—such as those related to the provision of future pension income—have an important inter-temporal element. In such settings, individuals may discount future cash flows more heavily if their confidence or trust in the government as the counter-party to the transaction is low. In this paper, we examine an economically meaningful choice faced by retirees in response to a Constitutional Court ruling over whether to accept a small, immediate pension payment or a stream of larger, delayed payments. Approximately 70 percent of retirees chose the more immediate payments, despite the fact that the deferred option provided a nominal internal rate-of-return in excess of 26 percent. We first document that these individual decisions are correlated in sensible ways with a wide range of covariates, including education, income, liquidity constraints, and longevity expectations. We then show that, even after controlling for such factors, individual choices are strongly influenced by their views about government policy parameters (e.g., inflation and exchange rate expectations), their overall confidence in government, as well as their views about the importance of receiving "the full amount owed" from the government. These findings indicate that a citizenry's confidence in government can have important implications for how citizens value future benefit promises.

Price Deflators, the Trust Fund Forecast, and Social Security Solvency

by Barry Bosworth
SSA Project # BC10-08
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-12

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The differential in the growth rates of the GDP price deflator and the CPI-W has a significant effect on the projected actuarial balance of the Social Security trust fund. When the CPI-W grows at a faster rate than the GDP deflator, projected benefits increase relative to the growth in program income. This study is directed toward measuring the sources of the difference in the two growth rates and its likely magnitude in the future. The study concludes that there no basis for expecting a consistent difference between the rate of consumer price inflation and that for the overall economy as measured by the GDP price deflator. However, because of differences in the methods of computing the two price indexes, the growth in the CPI-W can be expected to exceed the increase in the GDP deflator by about 0.2 percent per year. This differential is about half that currently assumed within the Social Security Trustees report.

Reconsidering Retirement: How Losses and Layoffs Affect Older Workers

by Courtney C. Coile and Phillip B. Levine 
SSA Project # NB10-18
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Recent declines in U.S. stock and housing markets have led to widespread speculation that workers will delay retirement due to shrinking retirement accounts and home equity. Yet the effect of the weak labor market is often overlooked. If older job seekers have difficulty finding work, they may retire earlier than expected. The net effect of the current economic crisis on retirement is thus far from clear. The crisis may also have long-term implications for well-being, if workers who experience asset losses do not delay retirement sufficiently to fully offset the losses or if workers who experience job loss claim Social Security benefits earlier. In this paper, we use 30 years of data from the March Current Population Survey to estimate models relating retirement decisions to fluctuations in equity, housing, and labor markets. We also use the 2000 Census and 2001–2007 American Community Survey to explore the long-term effects of market conditions on retiree income. We find that workers age 62 to 69 retire earlier in response to high unemployment and retire later in response to weak stock markets; less-educated workers are more sensitive to labor market conditions and more-educated workers are more sensitive to stock market conditions. We find no evidence that workers age 55 to 61 respond to these fluctuations or that housing markets affect retirement. On net, we predict that the increase in retirement attributable to the rising unemployment rate will be almost 50 percent larger than the decrease in retirement brought about by the stock market crash. In terms of the long-term effects on wellbeing, we find that falling stock markets lead to lower investment income for high-income retirees, while weak labor markets result in lower Social Security income for middle- and lower-income retirees.

Selection and Specialization in the Evolution of Couples' Earnings

by Chinhui Juhn and Kristen McCue
SSA Project # NB10-10
National Bureau of Economic Research

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We examine changes across birth cohorts in marriage patterns and the earnings differentials associated with marriage using data from a series of Survey of Income and Program Participation panels linked to administrative data on earnings. We find that marriage has become increasingly positively selected on education and earnings potential. Among women, selection into marriage has reversed sign, with the most educated women switching from being the least likely to be married to being the most likely. While men with the highest earnings potential have always been more likely to be married, this relationship has become even more pronounced. Changing selection into marriage is entirely responsible for the observed decline in marriage penalty for women in the cross section. In fixed-effects regressions, the earnings penalty continues to exist even for the most recent cohorts, consistent with specialization after marriage. For men, we find that the marriage premium actually increases for more recent birth cohorts in fixed-effects regressions. Taken literally, this suggests that specialization has become more important. We plan to explore further the robustness of this result by allowing selection to affect not only the level but the growth rate of male earnings.

U.S. Mortality in an International Context: Age Variations

by Jessica Y. Ho and Samuel H. Preston
SSA Project # NB10-01
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Compared to other developed countries, the United States ranks poorly in terms of life expectancy at age 50. We seek to shed light on the United States' low life expectancy ranking by comparing the age-specific death rates of 18 developed countries at older ages. A striking pattern emerges: between ages 40 and 75, U.S. all-cause mortality rates are among the poorest in the set of comparison countries. The U.S. position improves dramatically after age 75 for both males and females. We consider four possible explanations of the age patterns revealed by this analysis: (1) access to health insurance; (2) international differences in patterns of smoking; (3) age patterns of health care system performance; and (4) selection processes. We find that health insurance and smoking are not plausible sources of this age pattern. While we cannot rule out selection, we present suggestive evidence that an unusually vigorous deployment of life-saving technologies by the U.S. health care system at very old ages is contributing to the age-pattern of U.S. mortality rankings. Differences in obesity distributions are likely to be making a moderate contribution to the pattern but uncertainty about the risks associated with obesity prevent a precise assessment.

Would People Behave Differently If They Better Understood Social Security? Evidence From a Field Experiment

by Jeffrey B. Liebman and Erzo F. P. Luttmer
SSA Project # NB09-01 • Social Security and Retirement
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This paper presents the results of a field experiment in which a random subsample of older workers was given information about key Social Security provisions, while a control group was not. The experiment was designed to examine whether it is possible to affect individual behavior using a relatively inexpensive informational intervention about the provisions of a public program and to explore what mechanisms underlie the behavior change. We find that our relatively mild intervention (sending an informational brochure and an invitation to a webtutorial) significantly increased labor force participation one year later and that this effect is driven by female subjects. The information intervention increased the perceived returns to working longer, especially among female respondents, which suggests that the behavioral response can be attributed at least in part to updated information about Social Security.

July 2010

Housing Consumption in Late Life: The Role of Income, Health Shocks, and Marital Shocks

by Douglas A. Wolf and Janet M. Wilmoth
SSA Project # BC09-18 • Demographic Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-10

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Past research has shown that income from the Social Security program has contributed to trends towards smaller households, greater residential independence—the tendency to live alone rather than with others—and a greater prevalence of home ownership late in life. However, the mechanism through which these associations operate has remained relatively unstudied. This paper addresses the possibility that Social Security income mediates the consequences of adverse events, whether "health shocks" such as a stroke or hip fracture, or "marital shocks," principally the death of a spouse. We measure housing consumption using the ratio of dwelling unit size (number of rooms) to number of household members—i.e., "rooms per person." We use panel data from the Health and Retirement Survey to model current housing consumption in relation to Social Security income as well as the occurrence of health and marital shocks over the two-year period preceding each survey year (1995; 2000; 2002; 2004; and 2006). We also use an instrumental-variables approach to deal with omitted-variables bias in the housing consumption equation, and include an additional control for selective loss from the sample due to entry into a nursing home. We find no effects of Social Security income on housing consumption once we control for selection and endogeneity, a result that contrasts sharply with past research findings. We also fail to find any evidence that Social Security mediates either health or marital shocks. However, we do find that health shocks, and to a lesser extent marital shocks, are strongly associated with both nursing home entry and changes in housing consumption.

June 2010

Spousal Health Shocks and the Timing of the Retirement Decision in the Face of Forward-looking Financial Incentives

by Courtney Harold Van Houtven, and Norma B. Coe
SSA Project # BC09-S6
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-7

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A long and still growing strand of the retirement literature examines the role financial incentives play in the timing of the retirement decision. A more recent second strand of work has focused on the role of health shocks in the retirement decision. This paper combines these two components of the literature in order to measure the marginal impact of current wealth (including pension accrual), forward-looking financial incentives (peak-value pension wealth), and health shocks on married individuals' retirement decision. This paper helps to clarify whether previously omitted forward-looking financial incentives can explain the strong role attributed to health shocks in the retirement decisions of coupled individuals. We find that financial incentives are the most important determinant of retirement behavior empirically. A husband is about half as responsive to his wife's financial incentives as he is to his own. Interestingly, we find that married men are responsive to their wives' health shocks, on both the intensive and extensive margin, but find wives' decisions concerning work are largely unaffected by their husbands' health shocks.

Work Ability and the Social Insurance Safety Net in the Years Prior to Retirement

by Richard W. Johnson, Melissa M. Favreault, and Corina Mommaerts
SSA Project # BC09-15 • Program Interactions
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-28

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A patchwork of public programs—primarily Social Security Disability Insurance, workers' compensation, Supplemental Security Income, and veterans' benefits—provides income supports to people who are unable to work. Yet, questions persist about the effectiveness of these programs. This report examines the economic consequences of disability in the years leading to retirement. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, we follow a sample of Americans age 51 to 55 in 1992 until age 64, just before qualifying for full Social Security retirement benefits, and observe their disability status, disability benefit receipt, and income every other year. Our multidimensional disability measure combines information from multiple questions about self-assessed work disability, overall health status, limitations with activities of daily living, functional impairments, and depression.
The results underscore the precarious financial state of most people approaching traditional retirement age with disabilities. Disability rates roughly double as people age from 55 to 64. Fewer than half of people who meet our disability criteria ever receive disability benefits in their fifties or early sixties. Benefit receipt rates are much higher among those with the most severe disabilities, suggesting that benefits are targeted to those least able to work, but women are less likely than men to receive benefits, even when models control for disability severity. Poverty rates for people who collect disability benefits in their fifties and early sixties are more than three times as high after benefit receipt than before disability onset.

April 2010

Accurately Measuring Health Over the Life Course

by Fabian Lange and Doug McKee
SSA Project # BC08-S3 • Demographic Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-5

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This paper develops a new method of estimating rich, dynamic models of health based on multiple health measures available in the HRS. We apply these methods to investigate what generates the large socioeconomic gradient in health. Preliminary results suggest a large role for initial differences in health at age 50 that persist into old age.

Borrowing from Yourself: The Determinants of 401(k) Loan Patterns

by Timothy Jun Lu and Olivia S. Mitchell
SSA Project # UM10-10 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2010-221

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This paper explores the determinants of people's decisions to take 401(k) loans. We argue that 401(k) plans do not simply represent retirement saving, but they also provide a means of saving for precautionary purposes. We model factors that rationally would induce people to borrow from their pension plans, and we explain why people do not often use 401(k) loans to replace their more expensive credit card debt. Next we test our hypotheses using a rich dataset and show that people who are liquidity-constrained are more likely to have plan loans, while the better-off take larger loans when they do borrow. Plan characteristics such as the number of loans allowed also influence borrowing and loan size in interesting ways, while loan interest rates have only a small impact.

Getting to the Top of Mind: How Reminders Increase Saving

by Dean Karlan, Margaret McConnell, Sendhil Mullainathan, and Jonathan Zinman
SSA Project # BC08-S1 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-4

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We develop and test a simple model of limited attention in intertemporal choice. The model posits that individuals fully attend to consumption in all periods but fail to attend to some future lumpy expenditure opportunities. This asymmetry generates some predictions that overlap with other models of present-bias. Our model also generates the unique predictions that reminders will increase saving, and that a reminder that makes a specific expenditure more salient will be especially effective. We find support for these predictions in three field experiments that randomly assign reminders to new savings account holders.

Incorporating Employee Heterogeneity Into Default Rules For Retirement Plan Selection

by Gopi Shah Goda and Colleen Flaherty Manchester
SSA Project # BC09-S3 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-6

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This paper examines the effect of incorporating individual-level heterogeneity into default rules for retirement plan selection. We use data from a large employer that transitioned from a defined benefit (DB) plan to a defined contribution (DC) plan, offering existing employees a choice of plans. Employees who did not make a choice were defaulted to switch to the DC plan if under age 45 or remain in the DB plan if age 45 or older. Using a regression discontinuity framework, we estimate that the default increased the probability of enrolling in one plan over the other by 60 percentage points. We develop a framework to solve for the optimal age-based default rule analytically and use our results to empirically evaluate the optimal age-based default rule for the firm in our setting. We show that for a broad range of levels of risk aversion, conditioning the default for the choice between pension plans on age can subs! tantially improve outcomes relative to a uniform default policy. Our results suggest that considerable welfare gains are possible by varying defaults by observable characteristics.

The Shrinking Tax Preference for Pension Savings: An Analysis of Income Tax Changes, 1985–2007

by Gary Burtless and Eric Toder
SSA Project # BC09-12 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-3

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The value of the tax preference for pensions depends on the marginal tax schedule and on the tax treatment of income from assets held outside a pension account. We examine the change over time in the value of pension investing, accounting for changes in the tax schedule and in the treatment of equity and bond income. We find that changes in U.S. tax law, especially the treatment of equity income, have led to sizeable changes in the value of the pension tax preference. On balance the value of the pension tax preference to worker-savers is modestly lower than it was in the mid-1980s and substantially lower than it was in the late 1980s.

March 2010

Social Security, Benefit Claiming and Labor Force Participation: A Quantitative General Equilibrium Approach

by Selahattin Ímrohoroglu and Sagiri Kitao
SSA Project # BC08-S2 • Social Security and Retirement
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-02

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We build a general equilibrium model of overlapping generations of individuals with endogenous saving, labor force participation, work hours and social security benefit claiming. We use the model to study the impact of three Social Security reforms; reduction in benefits and payroll taxes, increase in the earliest retirement age (ERA) from 62 to 64 and increase in the normal retirement age (NRA) from 66 to 68. We show that a 50 percent cut in the scope of the current unfunded system significantly raises asset holdings and the labor input, primarily through higher participation of older workers, and reduces the shortfall of the social security budget with a reduction in early-claiming. Increasing NRA also raises saving and labor supply but the effects are smaller. Postponing ERA has only negligible impact. When the projected aging of the population is taken into account, the case for a reform that encourages labor force participation of the elderly becomes much stronger.

February 2010

The Effect of Labor Market Trends on the Incentives and Incidence for Claiming Social Security Benefits Early

by Till von Wachter
SSA Project # NB09-06 • Social Security and Retirement
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This study examines the effect of incentives to claim Social Security benefits early originating in the labor market. Using synthetic matched survey and administrative data, we find that Social Security benefits replaced an increasing fraction of the earnings of less educated workers in the 1990s. Exploiting variation in replacement rates at the level of year and education groups, we then show that these increases in replacement rates have contributed significantly to the contemporaneous decline in the Social Security claiming ages of less educated workers. We argue further that the rise in replacement rates can be explained to a significant extent by an increase in earnings inequality over this period. Looking forward, trends in earnings inequality are likely to lead to continuing increases in the income replacement rate of Social Security for less educated workers in the future. Thus, our regression estimates suggest that average claiming ages may decline still further in the future as well. We also examine a second channel through which labor market trends affect early claiming, the rise and decline in educational attainment across cohorts. On this issue, we find that that despite significant differences in claiming behavior between higher and lower educated workers, a slowdown in the educational attainment among workers eligible to claim OASI benefits is unlikely to have a strong effect on future claiming ages. Trends in earnings inequality are found to have a much larger impact on claiming behavior than trends in education.

Participation and Contributions in Tax-deferred Retirement Accounts: Evidence from Social Security Records

by Marjorie Honig and Irena Dushi
SSA Project # UM09-13 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-219

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Social Security Administration W-2 records contain employee annual tax-deferred contributions for 1990–2003 and sufficient information to calculate tax-deferred contributions for 1984–1989. We use this information to compare tax-deferred contribution profiles of three cohorts of respondents in the Health and Retirement Study to determine whether younger cohorts saved relatively more at the same stage of the life cycle than had older cohorts. We find that participation in tax-deferred retirement plans increased substantially for all cohorts from 1984 to 2003, and that respondents in more recent cohorts were more likely to participate in such plans than respondents of the same ages in the earliest cohort. Their contributions as a percent of earnings were not significantly larger than those of the earliest cohort, however. Despite the increased availability of these employer-provided plans throughout this period, participation rates and contribution amounts remained low among respondents in the lower half of the earnings distribution.

When They're Sixty-Four: Peer Effects and the Timing of Retirement

by Kristine Brown and Ron Laschever
SSA Project # NB09-17 • Social Security and Retirement
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This paper examines the effect of peers on an individual's likelihood of retirement using data from the Los Angeles United School District. We show that two large pension reforms differentially impacted the financial incentives for retirement within and across schools. This created a natural experiment that allows us to identify the effect of peers on retirement behavior. Using an administrative dataset of the full population of district teachers ages 55 and over, covering the years 1997–2003 (n=46,542), we construct school-level peer groups and calculate the impact of the reforms on pension financial incentives. We use a measure of the unexpected (reform-induced) change in the pension wealth of teachers in a school to instrument for retirements at that school. After controlling for individual and school characteristics, and including individual fixed effects, our IV estimates of the effect of colleagues' retirement on a teacher's own likelihood of retirement are sizable and statistically significant. For example, we find that the retirement of an additional teacher in the previous year at the same school increases a teacher's own likelihood of retirement by an additional 1.5 percentage points.

December 2009

Impact of Immigration on the Distribution of American Well-Being

by Gary Burtless
SSA Project # BC09-19 • Demographic Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-34

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Changes in the net immigration rate and in the age distribution and skills of immigrants have important effects on the average age and skill mix of the population. In the short run increases in immigration boost the number of workers and aggregate earnings and reduce the ratio of elderly to non-elderly. This paper examines the impact of U.S. immigration since 1980 on trends in wages and income and the relative incomes of young and old. It simulates the wage and income distributional impacts of a reduced flow of immigrants into the United States. Even ignoring the possible spillover effects of immigrant labor supply on the wages earned by natives, the average wage of working Americans has slipped as a result of an increased number of low wage workers from abroad. Immigrants arriving after 1979 reduced the average annual wage by 2.3 percent in 2007. The slowdown in wage growth affects the growth of Social Security benefits. For workers attaining age 62 in 2007, the basic Social Security benefit would have been about 1.8 percent higher if the average wage had risen at the rate observed among native workers and immigrants who entered the U.S. before 1980 rather than among all resident workers, including workers who entered after 1979. Immigration since 1980 has also reduced U.S. household incomes and increased income inequality. Policies that reduce the inflow of immigrants or increase the average skills of new entrants would boost household income. If the flow of adult immigrants who have less than a high school education had been reduced by half after 1979, median income in 2006 would have been 1.8 percent higher and average income would have been 1.2 percent higher than the levels actually observed. The effects of this policy would have been significantly greater in the case of young working-age families; they would have been smaller in the case of households with a family head older than 65. On balance, immigration since 1980 has reduced the relative incomes of working-age residents compared with those of the population past 65.

November 2009

Actual and Anticipated Inheritance Receipts

by Norma B. Coe and Anthony Webb
SSA Project # BC09-08 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-32

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Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, we compare actual inheritances received during the period 1994 to 2004 with the amounts that, in 1994, households anticipated receiving within ten years. We find little evidence of systematic forecasting errors. The factors affecting inheritance receipt also affect expectation formation. Although the distribution of inheritances is highly skewed, they are generally modest in amount and uncorrelated with lifetime income, and therefore have almost no effect on various measures of inequality. We find no evidence that households anticipating receipt of an inheritance save less than otherwise similar households, although this could reflect unobserved heterogeneity in tastes for saving.

How Seniors Change Their Asset Holdings During Retirement

by Karen Smith, Mauricio Soto, and Rudolph G. Penner
SSA Project # BC09-09 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-31

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We use 1998–2006 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to investigate how households change their asset holdings at older ages. We find a notable increase in the net worth of older households between 1998 and 2006, with most of the growth due to housing. Our results indicate that, through 2006, older households did not spend all their capital gains. This asset accumulation provides older households with a financial cushion for the turbulence experienced after 2007. The wealth distribution is highly skewed, and the age patterns of asset accumulation and decumulation vary considerably by income group. High-income seniors increase assets at older ages. Middle-income seniors reduce their assets in retirement, but at a rate that for most seniors will not deplete assets within their expected life. Many low-income seniors accumulate fewer assets and spend their financial assets at a rate that will mostly deplete them at older ages, leaving low-income seniors with only Social Security and DB pension income at older ages.

Retirement Security and the Stock Market Crash: What are the Possible Outcomes?

by Barbara A. Butrica, Karen E. Smith, and Eric J. Toder
SSA Project # BC09-Q1 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-30

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This paper simulates the impact of the 2008 stock market crash on future retirement savings under alternative scenarios. If stocks remain depressed as after the 1974 crash, 20 percent of pre-boomers born 1941–45 and 22 percent of late boomers born 1961–65 would see their retirement incomes drop 10 percent or more. Working another year would reduce the share of these big losers to 14 percent for late boomers. Because most pre-boomers were already retired, their share of big losers would decline slightly to 19 percent. Delaying retirement would disproportionately benefit low-income people because their additional earnings exceed their stock market losses.

Will Automatic Enrollment Reduce Employer Contributions to 401(k) Plans?

by Mauricio Soto and Barbara A. Butrica
SSA Project # BC09-05 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-33

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Many employers match employee contributions to 401(k) plans. However, the employer cost of continuing this practice may increase rapidly as trends towards automatic enrollment boost employee participation. This paper examines the relationship between employer matching behavior and automatic enrollment. Using a sample of large 401(k) plans, we find that match rates are about 7 percentage points lower among firms with automatic enrollment than among those without automatic enrollment, even controlling for firm characteristics. So while autoenrollment increases the number of workers participating in private pensions, our findings suggest it might also reduce the level of pension contributions.

Workers Respond to the Market Crash: Save More, Work More, or Consume Less in Retirement?

by Steven Sass, Courtney Monk, and Kelly Haverstick
SSA Project # BC09-Q2 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2010-15

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This brief is organized as follows. The first section presents details of the CRR survey. The second section discusses the survey's findings on changes in saving and retirement expectations. The third section illustrates one of the many research opportunities the dataset provides by analyzing the effect of enhanced financial literacy on responses to the downturn. The fourth section concludes.

October 2009

An Update on 401(k) Plans: Insights from the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finance

by Alicia H. Munnell, Richard W. Kopcke, Francesca Golub-Sass, and Dan Muldoon
SSA Project # BC09-04 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-26

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The maturation of the 401(k) system and the enactment of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, which made 401(k) plans easier and more automatic, were expected to enhance the role that 401(k)s played in the provision of retirement income. So, originally, the release of the Federal Reserve's 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) seemed like a great opportunity to re-assess 401(k)s. But the 2007 SCF reflects a world that no longer exists. Interviews were conducted between May and December when the Dow Jones was at 14,000 (the peak was October 9, 2007) and housing prices were only slightly off their peak. Given the collapse of the financial markets and the economy, this paper uses the 2007 SCF data as a starting point in evaluating the condition of 401(k)s and the factors that affect participation and contributions and relies on more recent data and estimates to paint a full and current picture. The analysis proceeds as follows. The first section describes the evolution of 401(k) plans and how the Pension Protection Act of 2006 would be expected to improve the performance of these plans. The second section uses data from the 2007 SCF and other sources to update previous findings on participation, contribution levels, investments, and withdrawals. The third section explores in more depth the role how individual characteristics and plan design affect participation and contributions in 401(k) plans. The fourth section then projects how the events of 2008 have affected various aspects of 401(k) plans. The final section concludes that whereas 401(k) plans were showing some improvement in 2007 and the analysis of participation and contribution decisions confirmed the trend toward auto-enrollment and the maturation of the system, the events of 2008 highlight the limitations of 401(k) plans in serving as the only supplement to Social Security.

Buffering Shocks to Well-Being Late in Life

by Matthew D. Shapiro
SSA Project # UM09-05 • Macroeconomic Analyses of Social Security
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-211

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Consumption provides a comprehensive measurement of economic well-being. This research shows that consumption is well-insured with respect to health status and widowing. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and its CAMS supplement, it shows that consumption responds little to changes in health status even though adverse health generates substantial out-of-pocket expenses. Similarly, the effect of widowing on consumption, though substantial, is not strongly driven by changes in economic resources. Men experience little loss of monetary resources when being widowed. Women have the same overall loss in consumption as men when being widowed despite greater declines in economic resources. Hence, despite the adverse consequences for income and wealth female widows, women experience no greater drop in consumption from losing a spouse than do men.

Fees and Trading Costs of Equity Mutual Funds in 401(k) Plans and Potential Savings from ETFS and Commingled Trusts

by Richard W. Kopcke, Francis M. Vitagliano, and Zhenya S. Karamcheva
SSA Project # BC09-06 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-27

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As the role of 401(k) and similar defined-contribution plans continues to expand in our retirement system, plan participants are paying more of the cost of financing their retirement income. This study analyses the trading costs and fees of the 100 largest domestic equity mutual funds held in defined-contribution pension plans for the years 2004 through 2008. The pricing of the actively managed funds in this sample cost the average plan 0.50 of a percentage point or more in annual returns. By shifting investment options from managed mutual funds to exchange-traded funds (ETFs) or commingled trusts, 401(k) plans can align the fees they pay more closely with the expense of the services they use. This realignment can allow an average plan to reduce its administration and management fees between 0.20 and 0.40 percent of assets. In addition, the shift to ETFs and commingled trusts that hold ETFs can reduce average trading costs 0.50 percent of assets or more for participants holding managed equity mutual funds. The fees and trading costs of the domestic equity funds in this sample are not correlated with the performance of the funds. The funds with the greatest expenses tended to divide evenly between those funds that outperformed and those that underperformed the market by the largest margins.

Financial Literacy and Financial Sophistication in the Older Population: Evidence from the 2008 HRS

by Annamaria Lusardi, Olivia S. Mitchell and Vilsa Curto
SSA Project # UM09-10 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-216

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This paper analyzes new data on financial literacy and financial sophistication from the 2008 Health and Retirement Study. We show that financial literacy is lacking among older individuals and for the first time explore additional questions on financial sophistication which proves even scarcer. For this sample of older respondents over the age of 55, we find that people lack even a rudimentary understanding of stock and bond prices, risk diversification, portfolio choice, and investment fees. In view of the fact that individuals are increasingly required to take on responsibility for their own retirement security, this lack of knowledge has serious implications.

How Do Pension Changes Affect Retirement Preparedness? The Trend to Defined Contribution Plans and the Vulnerability of the Retirement Age Population to the Stock Market Decline of 2008–2009

by Alan L. Gustman, Thomas L. Steinmeier, and Nahib Tabatabai
SSA Project # UM09-09 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-206

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Our findings suggest that although the consequences of the decline in the stock market are serious for those approaching their retirement, the average person approaching retirement age is not likely to suffer a life changing financial loss from the stock market downturn of 2008–2009. Similarly, the likely effects of the stock market downturn on retirements have been greatly exaggerated. If there is any postponement of retirement due to stock market losses, on average it will be a matter of a few months rather than years. Counting layoffs, retirements may be accelerated rather than reduced. Background information from our forthcoming book also corrects misperceptions about pension holdings of the retirement age population. Pension coverage is much more extensive than is usually recognized. Over three quarters of the households with a person ages 51 to 56 in 2004 are currently covered by a pension, or have enjoyed pension coverage in the past. Pension wealth accounts for 23 percent of the total wealth of those on the cusp of retirement. For those nearing retirement age, defined contribution plans remain immature. As a result, almost two thirds of pension wealth held by those 51 to 56 in 2004 is in the form of a defined benefit plan. Lastly, women approaching retirement age are more likely to be covered by a pension than are women from earlier cohorts and they account for a significantly larger share of household pension wealth.

Insult to Injury: Disability, Earnings, and Divorce

by Perry Singleton
SSA Project # BC08-S7 • Demographic Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-25

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This study examines the effect of work-limiting disabilities on the likelihood of divorce. Theoretically, the effect depends on the disability hazard at the time of onset and the impact of disability on marital value. The theory therefore implies, based on a set of empirically-supported premises, that the effect of disability on divorce should decrease with age, increase with education, and increase with disability severity. Data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation support these predictions. The effect of a work-preventing disability is greatest among young, educated males, increasing the divorce hazard by 13.3 percentage points.

The Level and Risk of Out-of-Pocket Health Care Spending

by Michael Hurd and Susann Rohwedder
SSA Project # UM09-08 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-218

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The Health and Retirement Study (HRS) is a long-running panel survey with good measures of economic status, so it is the pre-eminent data set for studies about the economic status of the older population and economic preparation for retirement. However, the HRS expends considerably fewer resources on the measurement of out-of-pocket spending than other surveys such as the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) and the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS), which may result in its having relatively less accurate measurement of such spending. We compare the level and distribution of out-of-pocket spending in the HRS with similar measures in MEPS and MCBS in the population aged 65 or older. We find that the measures of out-of-pocket spending in the HRS are about 50% greater than those in MEPS at the mean, and very much greater at the upper points of the distribution. HRS and MCBS are in better agreement, although the HRS is higher at the mean and at the top of the distribution. The implication is that the level and risk of out-of-pocket spending on health care are exaggerated in HRS. Observation error in the HRS measurement relative to MEPS and MCBS is to be expected, but this does not explain the apparent bias. We conclude that researchers who use HRS 2004 or earlier should examine health care spending carefully, even on a case-by-case basis.

Marking Social Security's Open Group Liability to Market

by Paul Anton Koehler and Laurence J. Kotlikoff
SSA Project # UM09-03 • Social Security and Retirement
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-217

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This paper marks Social Security's open group liability to market taking into account the riskiness of its aggregate benefit payments and tax receipts. The open group liability references the present value of the system's net cash flow from now through the indefinite future. The latest Social Security Trustees Report (2009) estimates this liability at $15.1 trillion. But the discounting used to form this estimate takes no explicit account of risk and, therefore, potentially misprices both future benefits and taxes. Our risk adjustment is based on Ross (1976) Arbitrage Pricing Theory. Specifically, we treat the growth rates of the system's aggregate benefits and taxes as implicit securities that are spanned by the returns on marketed securities. This procedure focuses, then, on aggregate flows. This is quite different from the micro-based aggregation procedures underlying the Trustees Report, which requires highly detailed analysis of the cash flows arising from the program's numerous benefit and tax provisions. Our pricing of Social Security's infinite horizon net liability builds on prior independent work by Blocker, Kotlikoff, and Ross (2009) and Geanakoplos and Zeldes (2009). Both papers attempt to risk-adjust Social Security liability measures, albeit two different liability measures, which are, in turn, different from the liability measure considered here. Blocker, et al. (2009) considers the liability to current workers of paying their future benefits net of receiving their future taxes assuming the system continues to operate under its current rules. Geanakoplos, et al. (2009) consider the "shutdown liability" (also known as the "maximum transition cost") of the current system; i.e., they value the system's accrued benefit liability. Our results, which we view as preliminary, suggest that the market value of Social Security's open group liability may be many times larger than the $15.1 trillion stated in the Trustees' Report. Unlike Blocker, Kotlikoff, and Ross (2009), this discrepancy between our financial valuation and Social Security's does not reflect differences in the value assumed for the safe rate of return. To control for this factor, we simply follow Social Security (and Geanakoplos, et. al., 2009) in assuming a 2.9 percent safe real rate of discount. We also find that the precise marketed assets used to price future Social Security benefits and taxes can significantly alter the estimate of the open group liability.

Medicare Part D and the Financial Protection of the Elderly

by Gary V. Engelhardt and Jonathan Gruber
SSA Project # BC09-10 • Program Interactions
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-24

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We examine the impact of the expansion of public prescription drug insurance coverage from Medicare Part D on the elderly and find evidence of substantial crowd-out. Using detailed data from the 2002-6 waves of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), we estimate that the extension of Part D benefits resulted in 75% crowd-out of prescription drug insurance coverage and 33%-50% crowd-out of prescription drug expenditures of those 65 and older. Part D is associated with relatively small reductions in out-of-pocket spending. This suggests that the welfare gain from protecting the elderly from out-of-pocket spending risk through Part D has been small.

Mortality Contingent Claims: Impact of Capital Market, Income, and Interest Rate Risk

by Wolfram J. Horneff and Raimond H. Maurer
SSA Project # UM09-12 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-222

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In this paper, we consider optimal insurance, portfolio allocation, and consumption rules for a stochastic wage earner with CRRA preferences whose lifetime is random. In a continuous time framework, the investor has to decide among short and long positions in mortality contingent claims a.k.a. life insurance, stocks, bonds, and money market investment when facing a risky stock market and interest rate risk. We find an analytical solution for the complete market case in which human capital is exactly priced. We also extend the analysis to the case where income is unspanned. An illustrative analysis shows when the wage earner's demand for life insurance switches to the demand for annuities.

Proximity and Coresidence of Adult Children and their Parents: Description and Correlates

by Janice Compton and Robert A. Pollak
SSA Project # UM09-18 • Demographic Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-215

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The ability of family members to engage in intergenerational transfers of hands-on care requires close proximity or coresidence. In this paper we describe and analyze the patterns of proximity and coresidence involving adult children and their mothers using data from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) and the U.S. Census. Although intergenerational coresidence has been declining in the United States, most Americans live within 25 miles of their mothers. In both the raw data and in regression analyses, the most robust predictor of proximity of adult children to their mothers is education. Individuals are less likely to live near their mothers if they have a college degree. Virtually all previous studies have considered coresidence alone, or else treat coresidence as a limiting case of close proximity. We show that this treatment is misleading. We find substantial differences in the correlates of proximity by gender and marital status, indicating the need to model these categories separately. Other demographic variables such as age, race and ethnicity also affect the probability of coresidence and close proximity, but characteristics indicating a current need for transfers (e.g., disability) are not correlated with close proximity.

The Role of Information for Retirement Behavior: Evidence Based on the Stepwise Introduction of the Social Security Statement

by Giovanni Mastrobuoni
SSA Project # BC08-S6 • Social Security and Retirement
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-23

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In 1995, the Social Security Administration started sending out the annual Social Security Statement. It contains information about the worker's estimated benefits at the ages 62, 65, and 70. I use this unique natural experiment to analyze the retirement and claiming decision-making. First, I find that, despite the previous availability of information, the Statement has a significant impact on workers' knowledge about their benefits. These findings are consistent with a model where workers need to gather costly information in order to improve their retirement decision. Second, I use this exogenous variation in knowledge to analyze the optimality of workers' decisions. Several findings suggest that workers do not change their retirement behavior: i) Workers do not change their expected age of retirement after receiving the Statement; ii) monthly claiming patterns do not show any change after the introduction of the Social Security Statement; iii) workers do not become more sensitive to Social Security incentives after receiving the Statement. Either, workers are already behaving optimally, or the information contained in the Statement is not sufficient to improve their retirement behavior.

Social Security and the Joint Trends in Labor Supply and Benefits Receipt Among Older Men

by Bo MacInnis
SSA Project # BC08-S5 • Social Security and Retirement
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-22

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Using data from the Current Population Surveys, we find an increase in the fraction of older American men who worked without receiving Social Security retirement benefits and a decline in the fraction of men who claimed benefits without working during the period 1980–2006. Using bivariate probit regressions, we find that an increase in Social Security's normal retirement age decreased labor force participation rate regardless of benefits receipt status; that an increase in the delayed retirement credit increased benefit receipt regardless of labor force status; and that labor force participation and claiming Social Security benefits are strongly and negatively correlated.

The Wealth of Older Americans and the Sub-Prime Debacle

by Barry Bosworth and Rosanna Smart
SSA Project # BC09-07 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-21

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This study explores the consequences of the housing price bubble and its collapse for the wealth of older households. We utilize micro survey data to follow the rise in home values to 2007, observing which households enjoyed home price appreciation and how they responded in terms of equity withdrawal. We then use the SCF survey data on wealth holdings from 2007 in combination with national price indexes to simulate the magnitude and distribution of wealth loss from the 2008–9 financial crisis. The collapse of the housing market triggered a broad decline of asset prices that greatly reduced the wealth of all households. While older households mitigated their real estate and equity losses with relatively stable fixed-value assets and pension programs, no demographic group was left unscathed. Prior to the financial crisis, our and other studies had concluded that the current baby-boom cohort of near retirees were surprisingly well-prepared for retirement compared to similarly-aged households over the past quarter century. Unless there is a strong recovery of asset values in the next few years, that favorable assessment is no longer true.

September 2009

Aging, Asset Markets, and Asset Returns: A View from Europe to Asia

by Axel Borsch-Supan and Alexander Ludwig
SSA Project # NB09-10 • Macroeconomic Analyses of Social Security
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This study reports findings from the continuing enhancement and application of a multinational macroeconomic model that looks at effects of population aging, in conjunction with social security reform, on macroeconomic outcomes. A key emphasis of the current work is on the interactions between labor and capital markets. Another key addition to the model is the inclusion of emerging countries, and how the growth of emerging countries affects the models predicted macroeconomic implications. The direct effect of demographic change is that the number of employed persons will fall sharply from 2010 onwards, whereas the number of consumers will remain largely unchanged. Labor, at least in the highly skilled sector, will become increasingly scarce, so that demand for capital increases. This is where the inclusion in the model of emerging economies becomes so important, as financing from the older, labor constrained countries is provided for production facilities abroad in "younger" countries, such as India. The implications of population aging on asset market returns are moderated in a world with such international mobility of capital. A number of labor-related factors are also part of the macroeconomic dynamic. For example, education and training will assume an increasingly important role in order to keep the returns of productive physical capital high. Aging will also precipitate labor market and pension reform which will, in turn, change labor supply and saving behavior.

Causes of Lagging Life Expectancy at Older Ages in the United States

by Samuel H. Preston, Jessica Ho, Dana A. Glei, and John R. Wilmouth
SSA Project # NB09-11 • Demographic Research
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Life expectancy in the United States fares poorly in international comparisons, primarily because of high mortality rates above age 50. This paper evaluates two prominent explanations of its poor performance. One explanation is a poor performance by the health care system. We find that, by standards of OECD countries, the US does well in terms of screening for cancer, survival rates from cancer, survival rates after heart attacks and strokes, and medication of individuals with high levels of blood pressure or cholesterol. We consider in greater depth mortality from prostate cancer and breast cancer, diseases for which effective methods of identification and treatment have been developed and where behavioral factors do not play a dominant role. We conclude that the low longevity ranking of the United States is not likely to be a result of a poorly functioning health care system. In the second part of the paper, we argue that the history of heavy cigarette smoking in the United States is a major factor in its poor ranking. For example, we estimate that male life expectancy at age 50 would be 2.8 years higher if smoking-attributable deaths were eliminated, while female life expectancy at age 50 would be 2.6 years higher. Removing smoking attributable deaths for all countries would improve the age-50 life expectancy ranking of US women from 17th (out of 20) to 7th; and the men's ranking from 14th to 9th.

The Design of Retirement Saving Programs in the Presence of Competing Consumption Needs

by Andrew Samwick
SSA Project # NB09-09 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This project considers the optimal design of Social Security taxes when households' saving decisions include motives like housing, education, and uncertainty in addition to retirement. At issue is the timing, not the expected present value, of taxes over the working lifetime. A 10-year, revenue-neutral delay in the onset of payroll taxes generates a welfare gain equal to approximately 18 percent of one year of annualized income. This is equivalent to giving a typical worker $8,000 of assets upon entering the work force. Welfare gains from revenue-neutral payroll tax delays are larger when individuals must also save to overcome down payment constraints on housing purchases near the beginning of their work lives and slightly lower when they must save later in their work lives to finance college educations for their children.

Disability, Earnings, Income and Consumption

by Bruce D. Meyer and Wallace K.C. Mok
SSA Project # NB09-13 • Program Interactions
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Using longitudinal data for the period 1968–2005 for a sample of male household heads, we determine the prevalence of disability during the working years and examine how the extent of disability affects a range of outcomes, including earnings, income, and consumption. We have seven main findings. First, disability rates are high. We divide the disabled along two dimensions based on the persistence and severity of their work-limiting condition. We estimate that a person reaching age 56 has a 53 percent chance of having been disabled at least once during his working years, and a 19 percent chance that he has begun a chronic and severe disability. Second, the economic consequences of disability are frequently profound. Ten years after disability onset, a person with a chronic and severe disability on average experiences a 68 percent decline in earnings, a 32 percent decline in after-tax income, a 22 percent decline in food and housing consumption and a 21 percent decline in food consumption. Third, the various economic consequences differ sharply across disability groups. The outcome declines for those with a chronic and severe disability are often more than twice as large as those for the average disabled. Fourth, our findings show the partial and incomplete roles that individual savings, family support and social insurance play in reducing the consumption drop that follows disability. Only about half of this most disabled group reports receiving Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income. Fifth, we find a noticeable fall in earnings and income prior to the onset of a reported disability. Consumption also falls somewhat, suggesting that future disability is partially but incompletely predictable in the short run. Sixth, time use and detailed consumption data further indicate that disability is associated with a decline in wellbeing. Seventh, the quantities we have estimated, combined with elasticities from the literature, allow us to examine the optimality of current compensation for the disabled. We find that the current compensation for our most disabled group appears to be lower than is optimal.

The Displacement Effect of Public Pensions on the Accumulation of Financial Assets

by Michael Hurd, Pierre-Carl Michaud and Susann Rohwedder
SSA Project # UM09-16 • International Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-212

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The generosity of public pensions may depress private savings and provide incentives to retire early. While there is plenty of evidence supporting the latter effect, there remains considerable controversy as whether or not public pensions crowd out private savings. This paper uses international micro-datasets collected over recent years to investigate whether public pensions displace private savings. The identification strategy relies on differences in the progressivity or non-linearity of pension formulas across countries. We also make use of large heterogeneity in earnings across education group and country. The evidence we present is consistent with previous studies using cross-sectional and time-series variation in savings and pensions. We estimate that an extra dollar of pension wealth depresses accumulated financial assets at the time of retirement by 23 to 44 cents and that an extra ten thousand dollars in pension wealth reduces the average retirement age by roughly 1 month.

Economic Well-Being of the Elderly Immigrant Population

by George J. Borjas
SSA Project # NB09-02 • Demographic Research
National Bureau of Economic Research

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The study uses microdata from the 1970–2000 decennial censuses, as well as the 2005–2007 American Community Surveys, to document and examine the trends in the economic well being of the elderly immigrant population. The key empirical finding of the analysis is that there has been a significant drop in the relative income of elderly immigrants in the past few decades. In 1970, the average income of elderly immigrants was only about 5 percent below that of elderly natives. By 2007, the income gap had widened to 30 percent. This study examines the immigrant-native gap in the various sources of income that determine the economic well being of the elderly population, including investment income, retirement benefits, and public assistance. The analysis finds that a crucial factor in generating the growing immigrant disadvantage is that immigrants are much less likely to receive retirement benefits than natives, either through the Social Security system or through private sources. Moreover, even among those immigrants who do receive retirement benefits, there is a sizable gap in the level of benefits received.

Estimating Work Capacity Among Near Elderly and Elderly Men

by David Cutler
SSA Project # NB09-18 • Social Security and Retirement
National Bureau of Economic Research

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As the population ages, labor force growth will fall, and demand for labor will increasingly have to be met by older workers. At the same time, pressures on Social Security and Medicare finances mean that older people may be required or incentivized to work to older ages—if they are able to do so. The goal of this paper is to measure the work capacity of near elderly and elderly men. First, I show that work capacity declines only slowly through the mid-70s, and then declines more rapidly thereafter. Relative to men in their late 50s, work capacity is about 90 percent as high at age 65, and 70 percent as high at age 75. Second, I estimate that an additional 31 million men between ages 55 and 74 would be working if actual employment tracked changes in predicted work capacity by age. This is roughly 25 percent of the men in that age group and 22 percent of total employment. Thus, the United States could substantially meet a coming demand for workers with increased labor force participation among the 'young elderly.' Third, I compare work capacity across demographic groups, finding that less educated workers have 10–20 percent lower labor force capacity at older ages than better educated workers, on average, and that blacks have 10–15 percent lower work capacity than whites.

Family Status Transitions, Latent Health, and the Post-Retirement Evolution of Assets

by James Poterba, Steven Venti, and David A. Wise
SSA Project # NB09-03 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This study explores the evolution of assets after retirement. It focuses on two questions: first, whether the drawdown of assets is triggered by shocks to family status, and second, how the evolution of assets is related to health status. It uses longitudinal HRS data from 1992 to 2006, following households across two-year intervals between waves, and evaluating how their asset balances change as they age from one survey wave to the next.
One major finding is that households without major family status transitions tend to conserve their assets, even allowing them to grow further into older age. By contrast, people in households that experience a family status transition during an interval—by becoming widowed or divorced—often experience a large decline or no increase in total assets. Both the level and evolution of household assets is strongly related to health. People in better health have more assets to begin with, and more continuing growth of those assets into older ages. For continuing two-person HRS households age 56 to 61 in 1992, for example, the ratio of assets of persons in the top health quintile to the assets of persons in the bottom quintile is 1.7 in 1992. By the end of 2006 the ratio of assets in the top quintile to assets in the bottom quintile was over 2.2.

Fettered Consumers and Information Mandates: Evidence from Mexico's Privatized Social Security Market

by Fabian Duarte and Justine Hastings
SSA Project # NB09-04 • International Research
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This study analyzes data on investment decisions and personal account management in Mexico's privatized social security system. In this system, workers freely allocate their savings between the investment options of 15–20 approved fund managers. A key finding is that management fees play little role in workers' investment decisions. Also, workers switch fund managers infrequently, despite frequent changes in the relative expense of the different fund managers. Demand for different investment managers is price inelastic for workers from most income and educational backgrounds. For low-income workers, peer and employer effects, advertising exposure and brand name are larger determinants of fund manager choice than management fees. Higher-income and higher-educated workers are more likely to chase past returns. Changes in employment are the single largest determinant of when workers switch fund managers.

Gain and Loss: Marriage and Wealth Changes Over Time

by Julie Zissimopoulos
SSA Project # UM09-19 • Demographic Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-213

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Family composition has changed dramatically over the past 25 years. Divorce rates increased and remarriage rates declined. While considerable research established a link between marriage and earnings, far less is empirically understood about the effect of marriage on wealth although wealth is an important measure for older individuals because it represents resources available for consumption in retirement. In this paper we employ eight waves of panel data from the Health and Retirement Study to study the relationship between wealth changes and marital status among individuals over age 50. This research advances understanding of the relationship by first, incorporating measures of current and lifetime earnings, mortality risk and other characteristics that vary by marital status into models of wealth change; second, measuring the magnitude of wealth loss and gain associated with divorce, widowing and remarriage and third, estimating wealth change before and after marital status change so the change in wealth change is not the result of individuals entering or leaving the household and other sources of unobserved differences are removed from estimates of the effect of marriage on wealth. Our results suggest no differences in wealth change over time among individuals that remain married, divorced, widowed, never married and partnered over 7 years. In the short-run there are substantial wealth changes associated with marital status changes. Divorce at older ages is costly, remarriage is wealth enhancing and people appear to change their savings in response to changes in marital status.

How Well Are Social Security Recipients Protected from Inflation?

by Gopi Shah Goda, John B. Shoven, and Sita Nataraj Slavov
SSA Project # NB09-14 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Social Security is widely believed to protect its recipients from inflation because benefits are indexed to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). However, the CPI-W may not accurately reflect the experience of retirees for two reasons. First, retirees generally have higher medical expenses than workers, and medical costs, in recent years, have tended to rise faster than the prices of other goods. Second, even if medical costs did not rise faster than the prices of other goods, as retirees aged, their medical spending would still tend to increase as a share of income; that is, each cohort of retirees would still see a decline in the real income left over for non-medical spending. We show that Social Security benefits net of average out-of-pocket medical expenses have declined relative to a price index for non-medical goods by almost 20 percent for men, and almost 27 percent for women, in the 1918 birth cohort. We also explore the extent to which indexing Social Security benefits to the CPI-E, an experimental measure of inflation for the elderly, would change these results.

Income, Material Hardship, and the Use of Public Programs among the Elderly

by Helen Levy
SSA Project # UM09-14 • Program Interactions
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-208

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I use data from the 2006 Health and Retirement Study to analyze the determinants of material hardship among individuals ages 65 and older. Ten percent of the elderly report hardship—defined here as cutting back on food or medications because of cost—in 2006. Although hardship is more likely for poorer individuals and, to some extent, for recipients of public transfer programs (Medicaid, Food Stamps, and/or Supplemental Security Income), the majority of those experiencing hardship are not poor and do not participate in these programs. In multivariate models, I find that self-reported health and activity limitations are significant predictors of hardship.

The Investment Behavior of State Pension Plans

by Jeffrey R. Brown, Joshua Pollet, and Scott J. Weisbenner
SSA Project # NB09-12 • Program Interactions
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This paper provides evidence on the investment behavior of 20 state pension plans that actively manage their own equity portfolios. We find that while these states tend to hold a diversified portfolio that approximates the overall market, they nonetheless substantially overweight the holdings of stocks of companies that are headquartered in-state. The extent of this over-weighting of within-state stocks by state pension plans is three times larger than that of other institutional investors. We explore three possible reasons for this in-state bias, including familiarity bias, information-based investing, and non-financial/political considerations. State boundaries are important for predicting state pension plan holdings—while there is a significant preference for instate stocks, there is no similar tilt toward holding stocks from neighboring stocks. We find evidence that states are able to generate excess returns through their in-state investment activities, particularly among smaller stocks in the primary industry in the state. However, we also find evidence that is at least suggestive of political influence playing a role in the stock selection process, as state pension plans of corrupt states are more likely to hold within state stocks. The difference in performance between within-state and out-of-state stock investments is strongest for the state pension plans located in more corrupt states.

Investor Behavior and Fund Performance under a Privatized Retirement Accounts System: Evidence from Chile

by Elena Krasnokutskaya and Petra Todd
SSA Project # UM09-17 • International Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-209

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In the U.S. and in Chile, there have been heated debates about the relative merits of a decentralized privatized pension system relative to a more traditional social security system. On the firm side, there are concerns that pension funds engage in anticompetitive behavior and take advantage of consumers' by charging high fees and account maintenance changes. On the consumer side, there are concerns that consumers do not select wisely among funds and take on too much risk. Any pension system with insurance features to protect against low levels of pension accumulations is potentially subject to moral hazard problems, in the form of consumers' taking on too much risk. In the case of Chile, the government provides a minimum pension benefit to those with low pension accumulations, which can make some consumers more willing to take risks. For these reasons, the Chilean government introduced regulations on pension fund firms' investments designed to limit risk. This paper analyzes the determinants of consumers' choices of pension fund and of pension fund characteristics (performance and fees), taking into account governmental regulations. In particular, it estimates a demand and supply model of the pension fund investment market using a longitudinal household dataset gathered in 2002 and 2004 in Chile, administrative data on fund choices, and longitudinal data on cost determinants of pension funds. We find that the existing regulation actually increases the level of risk in the market, reduces heterogeneity across firms, and reduces incentives for consumers to participate in the pension fund program. We suggest alternative more effective forms of regulation.

Is Retiree Demand for Life Annuities Rational? Evidence from Public Employees

by John Chalmers and Jonathan Reuter
SSA Project # NB09-15 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Economists advise retirees to convert the majority of their retirement assets into life annuities. Yet, the voluntary market for life annuities is small. Explanations for this "under-annuitization puzzle" center on poor financial-decision making. Using data from Oregon's Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) from 1990 to 2003, we study the extent to which individual demand for life annuities versus partial and full lump sum payouts is consistent with rational financial decision-making. The evidence is mixed. On the one hand, as predicted, demand for the full lump sum payout is negatively correlated with its opportunity cost. In addition, demand for partial lump sums is higher when retirees have higher ex post mortality rates or greater tolerance for risk. On the other hand, demand for the partial lump sum payout is positively correlated with its opportunity cost. It is also positively correlated with recent returns on the S&P 500 index, which is consistent with retirees chasing equity returns. Finally, we find evidence of an income effect in the demand for partial lump sum payouts. While higher levels of life annuity payments should be associated with lower demand for incremental life annuity payments, in our setting, the median retiree forfeits $1.50 in expected present discounted value per $1.00 in partial lump sum payout. Overall, our findings suggest that retirees respond rationally to tradeoffs that are easily observed or understood—like health status—but less-than-rationally to tradeoffs that require an understanding of finance to measure—like the opportunity cost of the partial lump sum option.

The Long-Term Financial and Health Outcomes of Disability Insurance Applicants

by Kathleen McGarry and Jonathan Skinner
SSA Project # NB09-07 • Program Interactions
National Bureau of Economic Research

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In this study, we quantify the long-term financial and health circumstances of those receiving SSDI or SSI benefits, and of those who applied to these programs, but were rejected. We compare their economic and health outcomes to people who never applied to these programs. Our exploratory results suggest dramatically lower levels of income and wealth among those receiving SSDI and SSI, even when controlling for differences in socioeconomic status and self-reported health. As has been found in other studies, mortality rates are higher among this group compared to those who never applied, and self-reported health is much worse. Perhaps more surprisingly, those who applied for SSDI/SSI, but who were rejected, experienced nearly identical adverse effects as those who received benefits. Indeed for some measures (such as income and wealth pre-retirement), rejected applicants were worse off than the SSDI/SSI recipients. For people over age 65, there was nearly complete convergence between those who received benefits and those who simply applied but never got benefits—they all experienced much lower levels of income and wealth that could not apparently be explained by education, race, ethnicity, or self-reported health. Whether these adverse effects reflect selection into the process of just applying for SSDI or SSI, or whether there are causal adverse effects of these programs are not entirely clear.

Optimal Portfolio Choice with Fat Tails

by Jialun Li and Kent Smetters
SSA Project # NB09-16 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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The recent financial crisis has highlighted the importance of modeling and managing extreme risk, especially retirement savings. Virtually all standard optimal stock-bond portfolio allocation models, however, assume that risk is normally distributed (bell shape). In reality, stock market risk exhibits "fat tails." Allowing for "fat tails" can add considerable computational complexity to standard optimization framework, which is already quite complicated. This paper demonstrates how to model fat tails using a g-and-h distribution that allows for skewness and kurtosis of arbitrary degree. Unlike alternative extreme value and other coupla approaches, the g-and-h distribution has a well defined pdf, is smooth and satisfies certain regularity conditions that allow for tractable integration. It also appears to fit the data the best. We hope that our modeling approach will open the door for more realistic modeling of retirement income risk in the future. Our own SSA grant proposal for next year will extend the current research by adding a greater degree of fiscal policy institutions that materially can affect saving for retirement.

Pension Buyouts: What Can We Learn From The UK Experience?

by Ashby H. B. Monk
SSA Project # BC09-17 • International Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-19

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Managing (or at least slowing) the decline of private defined benefit (DB) pensions has been a top priority for US policymakers. Any market-related developments or regulatory changes that alter the provision or sustainability of private DB pensions in other countries are thus relevant to policy and worth understanding. One such development taking place in the United Kingdom, pension fund buyouts, has enjoyed measured success. A DB pension bulk buyout refers to a transaction in which a pension plan sponsor pays another company a fee to take over the assets and liabilities of the pension plan. Clearly such transactions are relevant to the provision and long-term sustainability of this institution. So, while the increasing popularity of these transactions is restricted to the UK, the market has garnered the attention of US financial services firms, plan sponsors and policymakers. This paper thus analyzes the growing market for DB pension buyouts in the UK and considers its implications for the US. It contributes to our understanding of the future prospects for employer sponsored defined benefit pensions, and how they will contribute to retirement income over time.
Using various qualitative methodologies, this paper traces the evolution of the buyout from a transaction for insolvent plan sponsors to a transaction for solvent plan sponsors with funded pensions. While certain types of solvent buyouts have fallen out of favor, such as non-insured buyouts, the paper concludes that buyouts of the insured variety have a bright future. The increasingly burdensome nature of the DB pension plan will sustain this market over the long-term.

Social Security Literacy and Retirement Well-Being

by Hugo A. Benítez-Silva, Berna Demiralp, and Zhen Liu
SSA Project # UM09-11 • Social Security and Retirement
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-210

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We build upon the growing literature on financial literacy, which studies the prevalence of lack of knowledge about various financial issues, and analyze how much people know about the Social Security rules using a small pilot survey conducted in 2007, and a follow-up and extended survey funded by MRRC conducted in December of 2008. We then assess the consequences of the apparent prevalence of lack of information by individuals about the rules governing the Social Security system using a realistic and empirically-based life-cycle model of retirement behavior under uncertainty. We investigate the individual's retirement and savings decisions under incomplete information and unawareness, in which a portion of the population does not know some or all of the rules of the system. We compare the outcomes in these cases to the outcome under full information, computing the welfare gain resulting from the acquisition of information regarding the Social Security system. Our analysis can illuminate the need for policies that foster knowledge of the system, which can improve welfare, and can result in better policy outcomes.

Trends in Earnings Instability of Couples: How Important is Marital Sorting?

by Chinhui Juhn and Kristin McCue
SSA Project # NB09-21 • Social Security and Retirement
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Using the matched March Current Population Surveys for 1968–2008 and 1978–2006 Social Security earnings data matched to several Survey of Income and Program Participation panels, this paper examines the volatility of individual and couples' year-to-year earnings, and whether earnings volatility is changing over time. We find couples' earnings instability remained fairly stable over time due to offsetting trends in men's and women's earnings instability. While men's earnings instability increased, particularly during the 1970s, women's earnings instability declined dramatically. We find some evidence that the correlation of spouses' earnings changes became more positively related over time, but we generally find these correlations to be small. Comparing actual couples to simulated couples who are randomly matched, we find similar trends in earnings instability, suggesting that marital coordination of work and marital sorting (choosing a spouse with similar characteristics to yourself) are relatively unimportant for instability measures.

What Replace Rates Should Households Use?

by John Karl Scholz and Ananth Seshadri
SSA Project # UM09-04 • Macroeconomic Analyses of Social Security
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-214

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Common financial planning advice calls for households to ensure that retirement income exceeds 70 percent of average pre-retirement income. We use an augmented life-cycle model of household behavior to examine optimal replacement rates for a representative set of retired American households. We relate optimal replacement rates to observable household characteristics and in doing so, make progress in developing a set oftheory-based, but readily understandable financial guidelines. Our work should be a useful building block for efforts to assess the adequacy of retirement wealth preparation and efforts to promote financial literacy and well-being.

Work Disability, Work, and Justification Bias in Europe and the U.S.

by Arie Kapteyn, James P. Smith and Arthur van Soest
SSA Project # UM09-15 • International Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-207

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To analyze the effect of health on work, many studies use a simple self-assessed health measure based upon a question such as "do you have an impairment or health problem limiting the kind or amount of work you can do?" A possible drawback of such a measure is the possibility that different groups of respondents may use different response scales. This is commonly referred to as "differential item functioning" (DIF). A specific form of DIF is justification bias: to justify the fact that they don't work, non-working respondents may classify a given health problem as a more serious work limitation than working respondents. In this paper we use anchoring vignettes to identify justification bias and other forms of DIF across countries and socio-economic groups among older workers in the U.S. and Europe. Generally, we find differences in response scales across countries, partly related to social insurance generosity and employment protection. Furthermore, we find significant evidence of justification bias in the U.S. but not in Europe, suggesting differences in social norms concerning work.

August 2009

Determinants and Consequences of Moving Decisions for Older Homeowners

by Esteban Calvo, Kelly Haverstick, and Natalia A. Zhivan
SSA Project # BC09-20 • Demographic Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-16

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The lore on whether older Americans move is mixed. While the familiar stereotype is that retirees flock to Florida or Arizona, prior studies have found that their home equity rises modestly over time, suggesting that they tend to stay put. This paper examines moving trends, determinants, and consequences using the original cohort of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). We find that a full 30 percent of homeowners in the HRS cohort move over the 1992–2004 period, but most moves occur close to home. Overall, two types of movers emerge from the analysis—those who affirmatively plan to move and those who react to changing circumstances. As proxies for these two types, this study uses the presence or absence of a negative shock, such as death of a spouse or entry into a nursing home. Our results show that the factors that help determine a move are similar for both groups, while the consequences of a move vary. Homeowners with shocks are more likely to discontinue homeownership and reduce net equity, supporting the hypothesis that households may view housing wealth as insurance against catastrophic events. Finally, while movers in both groups of home owners experience improvements in psychological well-being, movers with shocks are impacted most by the shocks themselves.

The Efficiency of Pension Menus and Individual Portfolio Choice in 401(k) Pensions

by Ning Tang, Olivia S. Mitchell, Gary R. Mottola, and Stephen P. Utkus
SSA Project # UM09-07 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-203

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Though millions of US workers have 401(k) plans, few studies evaluate participant investment performance. Using data on over 1,000 401(k) plans and their participants, we identify key portfolio investment inefficiencies and attribute them to offered investment menus versus individual portfolio choices. We show that the vast majority of 401(k) plans offers reasonable investment menus. Nevertheless, participants "undo" the efficient menu and make substantial mistakes: in a 20-year career it will reduce retirement wealth by one-fifth, in fact, more than what a naive allocation strategy would yield. We outline implications for plan sponsors and participants seeking to enhance portfolio efficiency: don't just offer or choose more funds, but help people invest smarter.

Extending Life Cycle Models of Optimal Portfolio Choice: Integrating Flexible Work, Endogenous Retirement, and Investment Decisions with Lifetime Payouts

by Jing Jing Chai, Wolfram J. Horneff, Raimond H. Maurer, and Olivia S. Mitchell
SSA Project # UM09-12 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-204

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This paper derives optimal life cycle portfolio asset allocations as well as annuity purchases trajectories for a consumer who can select her hours of work and also her retirement age. Using a realistically-calibrated model with stochastic mortality and uncertain labor income, we extend the investment universe to include not only stocks and bonds, but also survival-contingent payout annuities. We show that making labor supply endogenous raises older peoples' equity share; substantially increases work effort by the young; and markedly enhances lifetime welfare. Also, introducing annuities leads to earlier retirement and higher participation by the elderly in financial markets. Finally, when we allow for an age-dependent leisure preference parameter, this fits well with observed evidence in that it generates lower work hours and smaller equity holdings at older ages as well as sensible retirement age patterns.

Financial Literacy among the Young

by Annamaria Lusardi, Olivia S. Mitchell, and Vilsa Curto
SSA Project # UM08-12 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-191

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We examined financial literacy among the young using data from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. We showed that financial literacy is low among the young; fewer than one-third of young adults possess basic knowledge of interest rates, inflation, and risk diversification. Financial literacy is strongly related to sociodemographic characteristics and family financial sophistication. Specifically, a college-educated male whose parents had stocks and retirement savings is about 50 percentage points more likely to know about risk diversification than a female with less than a high school education whose parents were not wealthy. These findings have implications for consumer policy.

The Implications of Declining Retiree Health Insurance

by Courtney Monk and Alicia H. Munnell
SSA Project # BC09-16 • Program Interactions
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-15

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A large number of retirees have employer-sponsored retiree health insurance (RHI). While RHI is a common source of supplemental coverage for Medicare beneficiaries, it is also the only affordable source of health insurance for many retirees under age 65 who have no access to Medicare. However, employers are scaling back their RHI benefits in response to rising health costs and changes in accounting rules, by either eliminating benefits which shifts costs to retirees, or tightening vesting requirements. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, this paper examines the potential consequences of eliminating RHI for both pre-Medicare and Medicare-eligible retirees. For younger retirees the likely primary response is to work longer, and we find that number of workers age 55 to 64 would increase by 7 percent, as some of those who have their access to RHI eliminated would work rather than retire. Of those who still choose to retire, most lack any employer-sponsored health insurance option and would need to find an alternative source of coverage or go uninsured. For Medicare beneficiaries over 65, we estimate that about three quarters would replace RHI with another form of supplemental coverage. This shift would slightly reduce total spending and utilization for individuals who choose basic Medicare or a Medicare HMO as opposed to a Medigap plan, but health outcomes would probably be unaffected no matter which supplemental option is chosen. In short, a full elimination of RHI would primarily impact early retirees who must face the cost of much more expensive insurance or of financing illness without insurance. Policymakers may want to consider encouraging insurers to step in to provide more affordable plans for these early pre-Medicare retirees.

Retirement in a Life Cycle Model of Labor Supply with Home Production

by Richard Rogerson and Johanna Wallenius
SSA Project # UM09-06 • Macroeconomic Analyses of Social Security
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2009-205

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We analyze the forces that can generate retirement in different versions of standard life cycle models of labor supply. While non-convexities in production can generate retirement, we show that the size of non-convexities needed increases sharply as the intertemporal elasticity of substitution for labor decreases. In a model with home production, we show that these models imply a large increase in time devoted to home production at retirement. This is contrary to what is found in the ATUS data. We suggest that non-convexities in the enjoyment of leisure time may be a promising alternative feature to generate retirement.

Unusual Social Security Claiming Strategies: Costs and Distributional Effects

by Alicia H. Munnell, Steven A. Sass, Alex Golub-Sass, and Nadia Karamcheva
SSA Project # BC09-02 • Social Security and Retirement
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-17

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When to claim Social Security is one of the most important decisions Americans face when approaching retirement. Recently, several unconventional claiming strategies have come to light—"Free Loan," "Claim and Suspend," and "Claim Now, Claim More Later"—that have the potential to pay higher lifetime benefits to some individuals, increasing system costs. In the "Free Loan" strategy, an individual can claim benefits at a given age and later repay them and file again, obtaining an increased benefit from the delayed filing. This strategy is equivalent to a "no interest" loan from Social Security and could potentially cost the program as much as $11 billion a year. "Claim and Suspend" allows an individual to claim benefits and then immediately suspend them, either to put his own benefits on hold if he reenters the workforce or to allow his spouse to claim a spousal benefit while he continues to work and earn delayed retirement credits. The potential cost of allowing couples the option of "Claim and Suspend" is about $0.5 billion dollars a year. In the "Claim Now, Claim More Later" strategy, a married individual claims a spousal benefit while delaying claiming his own retired worker benefit in order to build up delayed retirement credits. This option could potentially cost Social Security $10 billion a year. Of the three strategies, "Claim and Suspend" appears to have the clearest policy rationale as it provides an incentive for individuals to work longer.

July 2009

Are Age-62/63 Retired Worker Beneficiaries At Risk?

by Eric R. Kingson and Maria T. Brown
SSA Project # BC08-06 • Social Security and Retirement
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-13

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This paper provides a longitudinal view, spanning 10 to 12 years, of persons first accepting retired worker benefits at ages 62 or 63 in 1994 or 1996. Using HRS data, matched to Social Security administrative files, we present: 1) findings of variation in income, wealth, health insurance coverage and employability, along such dimensions as race, Hispanic ethnicity, gender, reported health status and functional ability; 2) findings of economic, health and survival outcomes in 2006 for the 1994/1996 pooled sample, paying special attention to variations within the sub-sample of persons who accepted Social Security early retirement benefits by 1996; and 3) estimates of the proportion of persons accepting such benefits who are at risk. The findings indicate that persons first accepting Social Security retired worker benefits at ages 62 and 63 experience varying degrees of risk to their well being at these ages, and that these risks condition their well-being in retirement and survival probabilities. The major policy implication is that consideration should be given to providing a health insurance option for persons first accepting retired worker benefits prior to age 65. The major research implication is that retirement researchers should consider utilizing a range of measures—as opposed to a singular and potentially narrow measure—of risk when assessing the magnitude of risks existing for those accepting retired worker benefits at early ages.

Low Life Expectancy in the United States: Is the Health Care System at Fault?

by Samuel Preston and Jessica Ho
SSA Project # NB09-11 • Demographic Research
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 15213

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Life expectancy in the United States fares poorly in international comparisons, primarily because of high mortality rates above age 50. Its low ranking is often blamed on a poor performance by the health care system rather than on behavioral or social factors. This paper presents evidence on the relative performance of the US health care system using death avoidance as the sole criterion. We find that, by standards of OECD countries, the US does well in terms of screening for cancer, survival rates from cancer, survival rates after heart attacks and strokes, and medication of individuals with high levels of blood pressure or cholesterol. We consider in greater depth mortality from prostate cancer and breast cancer, diseases for which effective methods of identification and treatment have been developed and where behavioral factors do not play a dominant role. We show that the US has had significantly faster declines in mortality from these two diseases than comparison countries. We conclude that the low longevity ranking of the United States is not likely to be a result of a poorly functioning health care system.

June 2009

Capital Income Taxes With Heterogeneous Discount Rates

by Peter Diamond and Johannes Spinnewijn
SSA Project # BC09-13 • Program Interactions
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-14

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With heterogeneity in both skills and preferences for the future, the Atkinson-Stiglitz result that savings should not be taxed with optimal taxation of earnings does not hold. Empirical evidence shows that on average people with higher skills save at higher rates. Saez (2002) suggests that with such positive correlation taxing savings can increase welfare. This paper analyzes this issue in a model with less than perfect correlation between ability and preference for the future. To have multiple types at the same earnings level, the number of types of jobs in the economy is restricted. Key to the analysis is that types who value future consumption less are more tempted to switch to a lower earning job. We show that introducing both a small savings tax on the high earners and a small savings subsidy on the low earners increase welfare, regardless of the correlation between ability and preferences for the future. This can be implemented by earnings varying rules on contributions to tax-favored retirement accounts. However, introducing a uniform savings tax, as in the Nordic dual income tax, increases welfare only if that correlation is succinctly high. There are also some results on optimal taxes that parallel the results on introducing small taxes.

May 2009

Taxes and Pensions

by Peter Diamond
SSA Project # BC09-13 • Program Interactions
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-12

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Pension benefit rules depend on individual history far more than taxes do, and age plays a much larger role in pension determination than in tax determination. Apart from some simulation studies, theoretical studies of optimal tax design typically contain neither a mandatory pension system nor the behavioral dimensions that lie behind justifications commonly offered for mandatory pensions. Conversely, optimizing models of pension design typically do not include annual taxation of labor and capital incomes. After spelling out this contrast and reviewing (and rejecting) zero taxation of capital income based on the Atkinson-Stiglitz and Chamley-Judd results, this article raises the issue of tax-favored retirement savings, a topic where the two subjects come together.

Understanding Inflation-Indexed Bond Markets

by John Y. Campbell, Robert J. Shiller, and Luis M. Viceira
SSA Project # NB09-20 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 15014

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This paper explores the history of inflation-indexed bond markets in the US and the UK. It documents a massive decline in long-term real interest rates from the 1990s until 2008, followed by a sudden spike in these rates during the financial crisis of 2008. Breakeven inflation rates, calculated from inflation-indexed and nominal government bond yields, stabilized until the fall of 2008, when they showed dramatic declines. The paper asks to what extent short-term real interest rates, bond risks, and liquidity explain the trends before 2008 and the unusual developments in the fall of 2008. Low inflation-indexed yields and high short-term volatility of inflation-indexed bond returns do not invalidate the basic case for these bonds, that they provide a safe asset for long-term investors. Governments should expect inflation-indexed bonds to be a relatively cheap form of debt financing going forward, even though they have offered high returns over the past decade.

April 2009

How Much Do Households Really Lose By Claiming Social Security at Age 62?

by Wei Sun and Anthony Webb
SSA Project # BC09-01 • Social Security and Retirement
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-11

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Individuals can claim Social Security at any age from 62 to 70 although most claim at 62 or soon thereafter. Those who delay claiming receive increases that are approximately actuarially fair. We show that expected present value calculations substantially understate both the optimal claim age and the losses resulting from early claiming because they ignore the value of the additional longevity insurance acquired as a result of delay. Using numerical optimization techniques, we illustrate that for plausible preference parameters, the optimal age for non-liquidity constrained single individuals and married men to claim benefit is between 67 and 70. We calculate that Social Security Equivalent Income, the amount by which benefits payable at suboptimal ages must be increased so that a household is indifferent between claiming at those ages and the optimal combination of ages, can be as high as 19.0 percent.

Social Security Rules and Labor Force Participation of Older Workers: Evidence from Chile

by Alejandra Cox Edwards and Estelle James
SSA Project # UM08-23 • International Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-202

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Recent research has argued that incentives stemming from social security systems influence the worker's decision to retire. The experience of Chile, which radically changed its system in 1981, offers an opportunity to test this hypothesis. The new system tightened access to early pensions, replaced an actuarially unfair defined benefit plan with an actuarially fair defined contribution plan, exempted pensioners from the pension payroll tax and allowed widows to keep their own pension in addition to their survivor's benefit. Although the old system is being phased out, since 1981 the two systems have co-existed. Using probit analysis of the behavior of a retrospective sample of new and old system affiliates, we estimate the impact of the new social security rules on the probability of dropping out of the labor force, for older workers. We find large effects. Age of pensioning has been postponed. Labor force participation is much higher among affiliates of the new system compared with the old, especially for pensioners and women. This is not simply due to selection: Aggregate participation rates have increased as the new system's share of total affiliates has risen.

February 2009

Do Health Problems Reduce Consumption at Older Ages?

by Barbara A. Butrica, Richard W. Johnson, and Gordon B.T. Mermin
SSA Project # BC08-07 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-9

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High out-of-pocket health care costs may have serious repercussions for older people and their families. If their incomes are not sufficient to cover these expenses, older adults with health problems may have to deplete their savings, turn to family and friends for financial help, or forego necessary care. Or they may be forced to reduce their consumption of other goods and services to pay their medical bills. This paper uses data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and the related Consumption and Activities Mail Survey (CAMS) to examine the impact of health problems at older ages on out-of-pocket health care spending and other types of expenditures. The analysis estimates fixed effects models of total out-of-pocket health care spending, out-of-pocket health care spending exclusive of premiums, total spending on all items except health care, and total spending on all items except health care and housing. The models are estimated separately for households ages 65 and older and those ages 51 to 64. The results show that medical conditions increase health spending, particularly for house holds ages 51 to 64, but that health conditions do not generally reduce non-health spending. Medical conditions do, however, reduce non-health spending for low-income house holds ages 51 to 64, suggesting that holes in the health safety net before the Medicare eligibility age force some low-income people to lower their living standards to cover medical expenses.

Evaluating Micro-Survey Estimates of Wealth and Saving

by Barry P. Bosworth and Rosanna Smart
SSA Project # BC08-04 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-4

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This paper presents an overview of changes in household wealth accumulation and saving using wealth data from three micro-level surveys: Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), and Health and Retirement Study (HRS). We provide comparisons to the macroeconomic estimates of wealth accumulation and saving, explore problems in constructing household-level valuations of wealth, and assess the value of using household-level datasets to examine wealth accumulation and saving behavior in the United States. Our first analysis compares the macroeconomic estimates of wealth from the Flow of Funds to comparable measures from the SCF, PSID and HRS. The Flow of Funds and SCF valuations of net worth correspond closely up to 1998. Yet, after 1998, the SCF reports a much more rapid acceleration of wealth, concentrated in equity-type assets. The estimates of wealth in the PSID and HRS are very similar to the SCF for the bottom 95 percent of the wealth distribution, diverging only for the top 5 percent of households. Second, we evaluate the extent of bias in the wealth estimates that may have developed in the longitudinal surveys due to attrition. We conclude that both surveys remain very representative of the underlying population as judged by a comparison with the lower 95 percent of households in the SCF. We also use the longitudinal data to estimate the relationship between wealth and mortality, and adjustment factors for differential mortality that can be used to adjust the age-wealth profile obtained from cross-sectional surveys, such as the SCF. The result is greater evidence of wealth decumulation at older ages. Finally, we use the panel nature of the PSID and HRS to construct household-level measures of wealth accumulation and partition those changes between the contribution of new saving and valuation changes. The overall changes in wealth match the macroeconomic data closely, showing a secular rise in wealth-income ratios. Although the measures of saving do demonstrate consistent differences in saving among major socio-economic groups, they do not reflect the general decline in saving rates that is apparent in the aggregate data for the past two decades.

Financial Hardship Before and After Social Security's Early Eligibility Age

by Richard W. Johnson and Gordon B.T. Mermin
SSA Project # BC08-02 • Social Security and Retirement
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-8

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Although poverty rates for Americans ages 65 and older have plunged over the past half century, many people continue to fall into poverty in their late fifties and early sixties. This study examines financial hardship rates in the years before qualifying for Social Security retirement benefits at age 62 and investigates how the availability of Social Security improves economic well-being at later ages. The analysis follows a sample of adults from the 1937–39 birth cohorts for 14 years, tracking their employment, disability status, and income as they age from their early 50s until their late 60s. It measures the share of older adults who appear to have been forced into retirement by health or employment shocks and the apparent impact of involuntary retirement on low-income rates. The study also estimates models of the likelihood that older adults experience financial hardship before reaching Social Security's early eligibility age. The results show that the likelihood of experiencing financial hardship increases significantly as people approach Social Security's early eligibility age. The increase in hardship rates is concentrated among workers with limited education and health problems. For example, among those who did not complete high school, hardship rates increase from 23 percent at ages 52 to 54 to 31 percent at ages 60 to 61, a relative increase of 36 percent. Hardship rates decline after age 62, when most people qualify for Social Security retirement benefits. These findings highlight the fragility of the income support system for Americans in their fifties and early sixties.

Health Care, Health Insurance, and the Relative Income of the Elderly and Nonelderly

by Gary Burtless and Pavel Svaton
SSA Project # BC08-11 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-10

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Cash income offers an incomplete picture of the resources available to finance household consumption. Most American families are covered by an insurance plan that pays for some or all of the health care they consume. Only a comparatively small percentage of families pays for the full cost of this insurance out of their cash incomes. As health care has claimed a growing share of consumption, the percentage of care that is financed out of household incomes has declined. Because health care consumption is more important for some groups in the population than others, the growth in spending and changes in the payment system for medical care have reduced the value of standard income measures for assessing relative incomes across age groups and across the income distribution. More than a seventh of total personal consumption now consists of health care that is purchased with government insurance and employer contributions to employee health plans. In this paper we combine health care spending and insurance reimbursement data in the Medical Expenditure Panel Study with cash and non-cash income data in the Current Population Survey to assess the impact of health insurance on the distribution of income and, in particular, on the age profile of income. Our estimates imply that gross money income and disposable cash and near-cash income significantly understate the resources available to finance household purchases. The estimates imply that a more complete measure of resources would show less inequality than the income measures that are currently used. The addition of estimates of the value of health insurance to countable incomes reduces measured inequality in the population and the income gap between young and old. Standard income measures imply that households with an aged household head have significantly lower average and median incomes than households with a head who is less than 55. In contrast, an income definition that includes value of health insurance implies that aged households have higher incomes than households with a non-aged head.

Rising Tides and Retirement: The Aggregate and Distributional Effects of Differential Wage Growth on Social Security

by Melissa M. Favreault
SSA Project # BC08-03 • Macroeconomic Analyses of Social Security
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-7

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Recent growth in wage inequality has important implications for Social Security solvency and the distribution of benefits. Because only earnings below the taxable maximum are subject to Social Security payroll taxes, wage growth that is concentrated among very high earners will generate lower tax receipts than wage growth that is more evenly distributed. The progressivity of the Social Security benefit formula increases benefit payouts when the share of workers with low wages grows. This study uses a dynamic microsimulation model to examine the aggregate and distributional consequences of alternative scenarios about the distribution of future wage growth among workers. We find fairly marked changes in projected Social Security benefit distributions, poverty, and long-term financing status with relatively modest changes in assumptions about wage differentials.

January 2009

Accounting for the Heterogeneity in Retirement Wealth

by Fang Yang
SSA Project # BC07-S5 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-6

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This paper studies a quantitative dynamic general equilibrium life-cycle model where parents and their children are linked by bequests, both voluntary and accidental, and by the transmission of earnings ability. This model is able to match very well the empirical observation that households with similar lifetime earnings hold very different amounts of wealth at retirement. Earnings heterogeneity and borrowing constraints are essential in generating the variation in wealth at retirement among low lifetime earnings households, while inheritance heterogeneity helps to generate the heterogeneity in wealth at retirement among high lifetime earnings households.

The Disappearing Defined Benefit Pension and its Potential Impact on the Retirement Incomes of Boomers

by Barbara A. Butrica, Howard M. Iams, Karen E. Smith, and Eric J. Toder
SSA Project # BC08-09 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-2

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The long-term shift in coverage from defined benefit (DB) pensions to defined contribution (DC) plans may accelerate rapidly as more large companies freeze their DB pensions and replace them with new or enhanced DC plans. This paper uses the Model of Income in the Near Term to simulate the impact of an accelerated transition from DB to DC pensions on the distribution of retirement income among boomers. A scenario in which employers freeze all remaining private sector DB plans and a third of all state and local plans over the next five years will on balance produce more losers than winners among boomers and reduce their average incomes at age 67. Income changes will be largest among higher-income boomers, who have the highest DB coverage rates and projected pension incomes. Furthermore, the numbers of winners and losers and net income changes are much greater for the last wave of boomers (born between 1961 and 1965) than for earlier boomers. Younger boomers are most likely to have their DB pensions frozen with relatively little job tenure and to lose their high accrual years for DB pension wealth, but also to have relatively more years to accumulate DC pension wealth before retirement. More than any other birth cohort, the boomer cohorts face increased risks from an accelerated shift from DB to DC pensions. Individual outcomes will depend on the magnitude of DB pension losses, participation and contribution rates in the new DC pension plans, and investment returns on retirement account assets. While most boomers will experience modest changes in income, an accelerated decline in DB coverage will reduce incomes by at least 5 percent for about 10 percent of last wave boomers.

Economic Restructuring and Retirement in Urban China

by John Giles
SSA Project # BC06-S2 • International Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-24

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In its gradual approach to economic transition, China deferred the difficult process of restructuring state owned enterprises (SOEs) until the mid-1990s. When restructuring of large scale SOEs accelerated after 1997, China witnessed sharp declines in the employment of urban residents. While some dislocated state sector workers made a transition to work in the non-state sector, large shares of laid off workers spent long periods unemployed or out of the labor force. Much of the transition out of the state sector occurred through early retirement and exit from the labor force of older workers. While earlier work suggested that the sharp decrease in labor force participation of older women is driven by reappearance of discrimination in the labor market, analysis of reemployment decisions suggests that exit from the labor force reflects a choice. Women exited the labor force in great numbers after 1996, but women with adult children of college age are 60 percent more likely than other women to be re-employed within a year. We also find weak evidence that women who provide care for elderly family members are less likely to be employed. An increase in the labor supply of older women after 2004, however, suggests that the exit of older women from the labor force between 1996 and 2002 was driven primarily by generous early retirement pensions offered during the process of restructuring.

Elderly Immigrants' Labor Supply Response to Supplemental Security Income

by Neeraj Kaushal
SSA Project # BC07-S7 • Demographic Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-25

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This paper examines the effect of changes in immigrant eligibility for Supplemental Security Income in 1996 on the employment and retirement behaviors of foreign-born elderly persons. I find that denial of SSI was associated with a 5 percentage point (15 percent) increase in the employment of non-citizen elderly men and a 5.6 percentage point (11 percent) decrease in their retirement rate. The estimated effects were higher for recent arrivals, a group most likely to be affected by the policy change. Further, while recent arrivals were more likely to increase part-time work, the earlier arrivals responded to the policy by increasing full-time employment. I find no consistent evidence that denial of SSI affected the employment of elderly immigrant women, but some evidence that it raised their retirement rate, specifically among those who immigrated in recent years.

Labor Supply Elasticity and Social Security Reform

by Selahattin Ímrohoroglu and Sagiri Kitao
SSA Project # BC08-S2 • Social Security and Retirement
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-5

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Previous literature on social security reform has used a variety of period utility functions and calibrated values for the intertemporal elasticity of substitution (IES) in labor. In this paper, we extensively study various preferences and values for IES in a general equilibrium model with overlapping generations. We calibrate the model to key U.S. macroeconomic indicators and document how social security reform impacts the economy under different preferences. We find that aggregate effects are surprisingly similar, regardless of the wide range of the values of IES used. However, reform leads to a life-cycle reallocation of work hours from early years to later working years and the size of this reallocation significantly increases with the IES.

Portfolio Choice in Retirement: Health Risk and the Demand for Annuities, Housing and Risky Assets

by Motohiro Yogo
SSA Project # BC08-S8 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-3

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This paper develops a consumption and portfolio-choice model of a retiree who allocates wealth among four assets: a riskless bond, a risky asset, a real annuity, and housing. Unlike previous studies that treat health expenditures as exogenous negative income shocks, this paper builds on the Grossman model to endogenize health expenditures as investments in health. I calibrate the model to explain the joint evolution of health status and the composition of wealth for retirees, aged 65 to 96, in the Health and Retirement Study. I use the calibrated model to assess the welfare gains of an actuarially fair annuity market. The welfare gain is less than 1 percent of wealth for the median-health retiree at age 65, and the welfare gain is about 10 percent of wealth for the healthiest.

Retirement and Social Security: A Time Series Approach

by Brendan Cushing-Daniels and C. Eugene Steuerle
SSA Project # BC08-01 • Social Security and Retirement
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2009-1

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Traditional analyses of retirement decisions focus on the age, from birth, of the individual making choices about how much to work, consume, and save for old age. However, remaining life expectancy is arguably a better way of examining these issues. As mortality rates decline, people at a given age now have more remaining years of life expectancy than they did in the past. If participation rates at older ages remain constant (or decline), then average time spent in retirement will increase. Additionally, because health status and mortality are correlated, adults with more expected years of life are generally in better health (and better able to work) than those with fewer years of remaining life. This paper examines labor force participation rates of older workers considering both chronological age and remaining life expectancy. Results show that participation by remaining life expectancy declines for men through the early 1990s, leveling off in the next decade. However, participation by age have been rising for men in their sixties since the mid-1990s. Whether we specify the empirical model by age or by remaining life expectancy, ages 62 and 65 both have strong negative effects on participation, confirming a major role in retirement decisions for Social Security. Finally, we find that controlling for other factors—education, marital status, and business cycle effects—magnifies the decline in participation attributable to cohort effects for men born between 1900 and 1960, but reduces the importance of cohort effects for women born in these years.

December 2008

How Much Do Respondents in the Health and Retirement Study Know about Their Tax-deferred Contribution Plans? A Cross-cohort Comparison

by Irena Dushi and Marjorie Honig
SSA Project # UM08-05 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-201

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We use information from Social Security earnings records to examine the accuracy of employee reports of annual contributions to tax-deferred pension plans. As employer defined benefit pensions are replaced by voluntary contribution plans, employee understanding of the link between annual contribution decisions and post-retirement wealth is becoming increasingly important. We compare the accuracy of employee reports of annual contributions in a sample of respondents in the original HRS cohort and in a sample of two younger cohorts, the War Babies and Early Baby Boomers. Tax-deferred plans are more common among the younger cohorts and we expected that they would be better informed about their annual contributions. We find that, among respondents for whom SSA administrative records are available, those in the younger cohorts were more likely to report accurately that they were included in a tax-deferred plan. Contrary to our expectation, identical proportions (70 percent) of respondents in both the older and the younger cohorts accurately reported whether they made a contribution during the interview year. Furthermore, we find no significant difference between the older and younger cohorts in the degree of reporting accuracy of contribution amounts, with approximately one-half of respondents in each cohort reporting contributions within plus/minus 25 percent of the true value. Both cohorts' self-reported contributions are systematically larger than the true values. Finally, both self-reported and W-2 contributions are significantly larger among respondents in the WB/EBB cohort.

Labor Supply Responses to Marginal Social Security Benefits: Evidence from Discontinuities

by Jeffrey B. Liebman, Erzo F.P. Luttmer, and David G. Seif
SSA Project # NB06-12 • Social Security and Retirement
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 14540

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A key question for Social Security reform is whether workers currently perceive the link on the margin between the Social Security taxes they pay and the Social Security benefits they will receive. We estimate the effects of the marginal Social Security benefits that accrue with additional earnings on three measures of labor supply: retirement, hours, and labor earnings. We develop a new approach to identifying these incentive effects by exploiting five provisions in the Social Security benefit rules that generate discontinuities in marginal benefits or non-linearities in marginal benefits that converge to discontinuities as uncertainty about the future is resolved. We find clear evidence that individuals approaching retirement (age 52 and older) respond to the Social Security tax-benefit link on the extensive margin of their labor supply decisions: we estimate that a 10 percent increase in the net-of-tax share reduces the two-year retirement hazard by a statistically significant 2.1 percentage points from a base rate of 15 percent. The evidence with regards to labor supply responses on the intensive margin is more mixed: we estimate that the elasticity of hours with respect to the net-of-tax share is 0.41 and statistically significant, but we do not find statistically significant earnings elasticity.

The Long-Term Effects of the Divorce Revolution: Health, Wealth, and Labor Supply

by Kristin Mammen
SSA Project # BC07-S4 • Demographic Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-22

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The effects of divorce on individuals and on society as a whole has been widely debated in public discussion of American life. The dialogue was sparked by the dramatic rise in the number of U.S. divorces which began in the 1960s: Figure 1 illustrates that the divorce rate doubled from 10.6 to 20.3 divorces per 1,000 married women between 1965 and 1975, and continued to rise until 1981. Scholars have also debated the implications of the 'Divorce Revolution' of this time period: the liberalization of divorce laws in a large number of states to a unilateral regime, which made divorce easier by requiring the consent of only one spouse to dissolve a marriage (e.g., Friedberg 1998, Weitzman 1995). Some policymakers, social scientists, and advocacy groups have argued that this sweeping policy change was an important factor in a general decline of the American family (e.g., Kirkwood 1996, Parkman 1993). Gruber (2004) found that children exposed to the unilateral divorce laws have poorer outcomes in young adulthood. On the other hand, the easing of divorce laws made it easier for people to leave toxic marriages, and arguably increased the bargaining power of abused partners within marriages; Stevenson and Wolfers (2006) find large declines in domestic violence in states that adopted unilateral divorce. This paper contributes to the evaluation of the change in divorce laws by examining a less studied area: the long term effects of this policy change on the well-being of men and women who were young adults when the laws were changing. This paper will examine laterlife measures including labor force status, earnings, wealth, and physical and mental health for these cohorts. This long term evaluation is important because this generation of Americans is now approaching and just beginning the retirement years. The aging of the population and the demands it will place on social service programs and future generations of workers is already an important topic for social scientists and policy makers (He et al. 2005). Understanding whether the wellbeing of cohorts affected by the divorce law changes differs from earlier retirees' will aid in this planning.

A Parsimonious Choquet Model of Subjective Life Expectancy

by Alexander Ludwig and Alexander Zimper
SSA Project # BC07-S3 • Demographic Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-20

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This paper develops and estimates a closed-form model of Bayesian learning of subjective survival beliefs within the framework of Choquet decision theory. Data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) indicate that, on average, young respondents underestimate their true survival probability whereas old respondents overestimate their survival probability. Such subjective beliefs violate the rational expectations paradigm and are also not in line with the predictions of the rational Bayesian learning paradigm which implies convergence of subjective to underlying 'objective' probabilities. Based on the assumption of non-additive beliefs, we therefore introduce a model of Bayesian learning which combines rational learning with the possibility that the interpretation of new information is prone to psychological attitudes. We estimate the parameters of our theoretical model by pooling the HRS data. Despite a parsimonious parametrization we find that our Choquet model results in a remarkable fit to the average subjective beliefs expressed in the data.

Regional Variations in Medicare Expenditures for the SSDI Population

by Thomas Bubolz and Jonathan Skinner
SSA Project # NB08-04 • Demographic Research
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Enrollment in Social Security's Disability Insurance program (SSDI) is increasing rapidly, resulting in dramatic growth in overall Medicare costs, from 13 percent of old-age spending in 1990 to 20 percent in 2005. At the same time, per-enrollee Medicare costs for the disabled grew in real 2005 dollars from $4,232 in 1990 to $7,406 in 2005. We don't know why costs have grown so rapidly. In the elderly population, surgical treatments for cardiac illnesses are a large component of rapid cost growth, but one might expect a much smaller role for cardiac disease in the under-65 population, particularly given the rising share of SSDI enrollees with musculoskeletal diseases and mental illness. This project will explore the increasing health care costs of SSDI enrollees, using geographic variation in expenditures as a mechanism for identifying factors leading to cost growth.

The Response of Household Saving to the Large Shock of German Reunification

by Nicola Fuchs-Schundeln
SSA Project # BC07-S1 • International Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-21

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German reunification was a large, unexpected shock for East Germans, with different economic consequences for different birth cohorts. Exploiting German reunification as a natural experiment, I analyze the validity of the life-cycle consumption model. In the empirical part, I derive three stylized features concerning the saving behavior of East vs. West Germans in the 1990s: (i) East Germans have higher saving rates than West Germans after reunification, (ii) this East-West gap in saving rates is increasing in the age of the birth cohort, and (iii) for every cohort, this gap is declining over time. The theoretical part investigates whether a comprehensive life cycle model can predict these three features. I find strong evidence in favor of rational, forward looking saving behavior. The precautionary saving motive is essential in replicating the features from the data.

Risky Pensions and Household Saving Over the Life Cycle

by David A. Love and Paul A. Smith
SSA Project # BC07-S2 • Macroeconomic Analyses of Social Security
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-19

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Recent defined benefit (DB) pension freezes in large healthy firms such as Verizon and IBM, as well as terminations of plans in the struggling steel and airline industries, highlight the fact that these traditional pensions cannot be viewed as risk-free promises from the employee's perspective. In this paper we develop an empirical dynamic programming framework to investigate household saving decisions in a model economy with risky DB pensions. The model incorporates important sources of uncertainty facing households, including asset returns, employment, income, and mortality, as well as pension freezes. Applying a compensating variation measure of welfare, we find that pension freezes reduce welfare by a maximum of about $6,000 for individuals with a high school degree and about $2,000 for individuals with a college degree.

Sources of Support for Pension Reform: A Cross-National Perspective

by Michelle Dion and Andrew Roberts
SSA Project # BC07-S6 • International Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-23

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Many accounts of pension politics assign primary importance to societal forces. In the well-known formulation, pensions are the "third rail" of politics: politicians cannot cut benefits without suffering electoral retribution. In addition, some see the preferences of business as a key determinant of pension policy. This study takes aim at this problem by exploring what factors lead citizens and firms to support public pension systems and various reform efforts. To answer these questions, we analyze a survey of individuals and firms in 20 countries from five continents regarding attitudes toward pensions conducted by the Oxford Institute of Aging and the HSBC Bank. We examine separately variation in individual and then firm preferences regarding the role of government in pension provision and pension reform options. Then, we compare the preferences of firms to those of individuals to identify the potential space available for policy reform. The main results from the analyses are three. First, there are large cross-national differences in preferences of both individuals and firms. Second, these cross-national differences are not well explained by conventional theories. Third, there is some but not overwhelming support for micro-level theories about the reasons for differences between firms and individuals.

November 2008

Deconstructing Lifecycle Expenditure

by Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst
SSA Project # UM08-06 • Social Security and Retirement
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-173

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In this paper we revisit two well-known facts regarding lifecycle expenditures. The first is the familiar "hump" shaped lifecycle profile of nondurable expenditures. We document that the behavior of total non-durables masks surprising heterogeneity in the lifecycle profile of individual sub-components. We find, for example, that while food expenditures decline after middle age, expenditures on entertainment continue to increase throughout the lifecycle. These patterns pose a challenge to familiar lifecycle models that emphasize inter-temporal substitution or movements in income, including standard models of precautionary savings, myopia, and limited commitment. Secondly, we document that the increase in the cross-sectional dispersion of expenditure over the lifecycle is not greater for luxuries. In particular, the dispersion in entertainment expenditure declines relative to food expenditures as households become older, casting further doubt on theories that emphasize (exclusively) shocks to permanent income. We propose and test a Beckerian model that emphasizes intra-temporal substitution between time and expenditures as the opportunity cost of time varies over the lifecycle. We find this alternative model successfully explains the joint behavior of food and entertainment expenditures in the latter half of the lifecycle. The model, however, is less successful in explaining expenditure patterns during the early half of the lifecycle.

Identifying Local Differences in Retirement Patterns

by Leora Friedberg, Michael Owyang, and Anthony Webb
SSA Project # BC08-14 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-18

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The ability to retire at an age and in a manner of one's choosing depends on one's ability to retain or find employment at older ages, which depends in turn on local labor market conditions. We investigate how local labor markets affect retirement transitions. We match households from the Health and Retirement Study to MSA unemployment rates and estimate multinomial logit regressions on annual job transitions. We find that the MSA unemployment rate has large and statistically significant effects on job transitions. The estimated effects are stronger for men than women and tend to be stronger for semi-skilled workers. The unemployment rate has a negative effect on the likelihood of voluntary exit to either a new job (especially part-time) or retirement, and a positive effect on involuntary exit to retirement. A one percentage point increase in the MSA unemployment rate raises the likelihood of voluntary exit to a new job by 8.5 percent, reduces the likelihood of voluntary exit to retirement by 1.9 percent, and raises the likelihood of involuntary exit to retirement by 5.7 percent. Thus, high unemployment rates raises involuntary exits and constrains the ability of others to transition into retirement in a manner of their choosing.

What Effect Do Time Constraints Have on the Age of Retirement?

by Leora Friedberg, Wei Sun, and Anthony Webb
SSA Project # BC08-08 • Social Security and Retirement
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-17

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Work affects both the time available for non-market activities and the times at which those activities are performed—and therefore work-induced constraints on time use may influence retirement decisions. We analyze these effects by combining new data from the American Time Use Survey with information on retirement in the Health and Retirement Study. We find that the propensity to engage in three types of non-work activities—household production, leisure, and tertiary activities (eating, sleeping, grooming)—are substantially altered by work. Moreover, the ways in which the timing of these activities are distorted differ across ten different job types (industry-occupation combinations) that we examine in the ATUS. We use the resulting measures of time distortions as control variables in multinomial logit retirement models that we estimate in the HRS. Older workers in jobs with greater distortions to the quantity and timing of leisure activities have an increased propensity to leave those jobs, either for new jobs or for retirement. On the other hand, workers in jobs with greater distortions to household production have a reduced propensity to leave their jobs, and distortions to tertiary activities raise the propensity to take new jobs but reduce the propensity to retire.

October 2008

Dual-Eligible Medicaid Spending: Are We on the Flat of the Curve?

by Melissa A. Boyle, Joanna N. Lahey, and Margaret E. Czervionke
SSA Project # BC08-15 • Program Interactions
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-16

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For the U.S. Medicare population as a whole, previous studies show that additional medical spending at the margin is ineffective. For the elderly population overall, higher spending on health care does not appear to improve health outcomes or quality of life. The Medicaid literature, however, has shown benefits of increased spending on lower income populations such as single mothers. This suggests that there may be beneficial effects of spending on different segments of the Medicare population, particularly those most at risk—the low-income elderly. We use data from the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey to examine whether increased medical spending results in differential use of medical services and/or improved health outcomes for low-income elderly who are dually-eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. We utilize state-level variation in Medicaid spending in a difference-in differences framework comparing the dual-eligible population to the near-eligible population just above the means test cutoff to investigate whether additional spending by Medicaid results in differences in health and service use for low-income elderly. Preliminary results suggest that additional spending leads to small increases in drug spending and no other significant increases in utilization or health improvements.

The Effect of Transfer Income on Labor Force Participation and Enrollment in Federal Benefits Programs: Evidence from the Veterans Disability Compensation Program

by David H. Autor and Mark Duggan
SSA Project # NB08-07 • Program Interactions
National Bureau of Economic Research

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The objective of this project is to assess the impact of the Veterans Disability Insurance program (VDC) on Social Security enrollment, including SSI, SSDI and OASI. This topic is relevant to SSA both because VDC has expanded rapidly since 2001 and because further substantial increases in VDC enrollment are expected due to ongoing U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Impact of Changing Earnings Volatility on Retirement Wealth

by Austin Nichols and Melissa Favreault
SSA Project # BC08-10 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-14

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Over the last several decades, the volatility of family income has increased markedly, and own earnings volatility has remained relatively flat. Volatility may affect retirement wealth, depending on whether volatility affects accrued pension contributions or withdrawals or earnings credited toward future Social Security benefits. This project assesses the effect of the volatility of individual and family earnings on asset accumulation and projected retirement wealth using survey data matched to administrative earnings records.

Public Long-Term Care Insurance and the Housing and Living Arrangements of the Elderly: Evidence from Medicare Home Health Benefits

by Gary V. Engelhardt and Nadia Greenhalgh-Stanley
SSA Project # BC08-05 • Program Interactions
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-15

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We provide empirical evidence on the extent to which long-term care insurance affects the housing and living arrangements of the elderly by examining plausibly exogenous changes in the supply of long-term care insurance through the Medicare program that occurred in the late 1990s. Prior to 1997, Medicare reimbursed home health care agencies on a retrospective-cost basis. Then, starting in October, 1997, as a result of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (BBA97), Medicare switched to a system of prospective payments for home health care, which induced state-by-calendar-year variation in the supply of this type of public long-term care insurance. We exploit this variation to econometrically identify the impact on the housing and living arrangements of the elderly, using CPS data from 1995-2000 (before and after the law change). Our estimates indicate that living arrangements are quite responsive to home health care benefits. The estimated elasticity of shared living to benefits is -0.7 over all elderly and -1 for widowed elderly. However, these benefits have little impact on household headship among the elderly. This suggests that the bulk of the shared-living response occurred through co-residents living in elderly households. There is some weak evidence that increases in benefits raised elderly homeownership.

Stylized Facts and Incentive Effects Related to Claiming of Retirement Benefits Based on Social Security Administration Data

by Wojciech Kopczuk and Jae Song
SSA Project # UM08-04 • Program Interactions
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-200

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We rely on the Master Beneficiary File to document a number of facts regarding claiming of Social Security benefits and quality of date of birth data in administrative files. We then assess the impact of changes in retirement incentives that have taken place since 2000 on claiming. We find evidence of non-trivial misreporting or clerical errors in the dates of births that give rise to systematic patterns but nevertheless appear to be fairly random. We also confirm significant tendency to claim in January or on birthdays, but we find that these patterns are still sensitive to incentive effects. Relying on the discontinuity in the Early Entitlement Age that occurs for people born on the second day of any month, we find evidence that people do not have singlepeaked preferences over claiming age: relaxing the early retirement constraint leads to acceleration of retirement by some people for whom the constraint would not be otherwise binding. One possible explanation for this pattern is a preference for retiring at one's birthday. We take advantage of a change in the full retirement age and find that there remains unusually large (relative to other birthdays) number of people who claim around their 65th birthday, supporting the idea that Medicare eligibility has an impact on claiming retirement benefits. Finally, we confirm that elimination of the earnings test in 2000 for those above full retirement age accelerated retirements and find that it also led to a significant weakening of the January effect in that group, bolstering the idea that the January effect is sensitive to economic incentives.

September 2008

The Ability of Various Measures of Fatness to Predict Application for Disability Insurance

by by Richard V. Burkhauser, John H. Cawley, and Maximilian Schmeiser
SSA Project # UM08-17 • Demographic Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-185

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This paper compares a variety of measures of fatness (e.g. BMI, waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, percent body fat) in terms of their ability to predict application for Social Security Disability Insurance (DI). This is possible through a recent linkage of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III to Social Security Administration (SSA) administrative records. Our results indicate that the measure of fatness that best predicts application for DI varies by race and gender. For white men, BMI consistently predicts future application for DI. For white women, almost all are consistently predictive. For black men, none predict application. For black women, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio are the only significant predictors of DI application. This variation across race and gender suggests that the inclusion of alternative measures of fatness in social science datasets should be considered, and that researchers examining the impact of fatness on social science outcomes should examine the robustness of their findings to alternative measures of fatness.

The Adequacy of Economic Resources in Retirement

by Michael Hurd and Susann Rohwedder
SSA Project # UM08-11 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-184

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The most common metric for assessing the adequacy of economic preparation for retirement is the income replacement rate, the ratio of income after retirement to income before retirement. However both economic theory and common sense say that someone is adequately prepared if she is able to maintain her level of economic well-being, which is not the same as maintaining her level of income or some fixed proportion of income. Economic well-being is typically measured by consumption, which is the measure we use. We define and estimate measures of economic preparation for retirement based on a complete inventory of economic resources, particularly wealth, which we compare with optimal consumption paths. We find that a substantial majority of those just past the usual retirement age are adequately prepared for retirement in that they will be able to finance a path of consumption that begins at their current level of consumption and then follows an age-pattern similar to that of current retirees. This is not true, however, for all groups in the population. In particular, almost half of singles who lack a high school education are likely to be forced to reduce consumption. Couples are much better prepared than singles. But because of taxes a substantial number of married college graduates will have to reduce consumption.

Are All Americans Saving 'Optimally' for Retirement?

by John Karl Scholz and Ananth Seshadri
SSA Project # UM08-01 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-189

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Many people fear that Americans are preparing poorly for retirement. But developing rigorous evidence on this issue is difficult. In this paper we briefly discuss evidence on the adequacy of retirement wealth accumulation. We conclude that existing descriptive evidence does not seem consistent with dire assessments of poor financial preparation. We then extend the straightforward, but computationally complex dynamic programming approach used in our earlier work to assess the adequacy of retirement wealth preparation of Americans born before 1954. We find only 4 percent of HRS households have net worth below their optimal targets in 2004, though this percentage is somewhat higher for more recent HRS cohorts. While our work is preliminary, we find little evidence that Americans born before 1954 have prepared poorly for retirement.

Curing the Dutch Disease: Lessons for the United Disability Policy

by Richard V. Burkhauser, Mary C. Daly, and Philip R. de Jong
SSA Project # UM08-Q2 • Program Interactions
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-188

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In the 1990s, the United States reformed welfare programs targeted on single mothers and dramatically reduced their benefit receipt while increasing their employment and economic well-being. Despite increasing calls to do the same for working age people with disabilities in the U.S., disability cash transfer program rolls continue to grow as their employment rates fall and their economic well-being stagnates. In contrast to the failure to reform United States disability policy, the Netherlands, once considered to have the most out of control disability program among OECD nations, initiated reforms in 2002 that have dramatically reduced their disability cash transfer rolls, while maintaining a strong but less generous social minimum safety net for all those who do not work. Here we review disability program growth in the United States and the Netherlands, link it to changes in their disability policies and show that while difficult to achieve, fundamental disability reform is possible. We argue that shifts in SSI policies that focus on better integrating working age men and women with disabilities into the work force along the lines of those implemented for single mothers in the 1990s, together with SSDI program changes that better integrate private and public disability insurance programs along the lines of the reforms in the Netherlands, offer the best hope of improving their employment rates and economic well-being as well as reducing SSDI/SSI program growth.

The Distributional Effects of the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision

by Jeffrey R. Brown and Scott J. Weisbenner
SSA Project # NB08-05 • Social Security and Retirement
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Millions of federal, state and local government employees have lifetime earnings that are divided between employment that is covered by the Social Security system and employment that is not covered. Because Social Security benefits are a non-linear function of covered lifetime earnings, the simple application of the standard benefit formula to covered earnings only would provide a higher replacement rate on those earnings than is appropriate given the individuals' total (covered plus uncovered) lifetime earnings. The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), established in 1983, is intended to correct this situation by applying a modified benefit formula to earnings of individuals with non-covered employment. This paper analyzes the distributional implications of the WEP, and finds that it reduces benefits disproportionately for households with lower lifetime covered earnings. It discusses an alternative method of calculating the WEP that preserves the intended redistribution of the system. In recognition of the data limitations that prevent this alternative method from being used by SSA for at least another decade, the paper also analyzes two alternative ways of calculating the WEP that use the same information that SSA currently uses, are budget neutral, and come closer to maintaining the cross-sectional progressivity of Social Security than does the existing WEP formula.

Does the Rise in the Full Retirement Age Encourage Disability Benefits Applications? Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study

by Xiaoyan Li and Nicole Maestas
SSA Project # UM08-21 • Demographic Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-198

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This paper compares the fraction of retirement transitions through disability channel (defined as applying for DI) across birth cohorts with different full retirement age (FRA) in the Health and Retirement Study. After restricting the sample to retirement transitions made by people with work-limiting health problems and controlling for other observable variables that might affect DI application, we find that the rise in the FRA does encourage older people to increase their DI application rate conditional on retirement after they reach age 62.

Early Retirement, Labor Supply, and Benefit Withholding: The Role of the Social Security Earnings Test

by Hugo A. Benítez-Silva and Frank Heiland
SSA Project # UM08-09 • Social Security and Retirement
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-183

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The labor supply and benefit claiming incentives provided by the early retirement rules of the Social Security Old Age benefits program are of growing importance as the Normal Retirement Age (NRA) increases to 67, the labor force participation of Older Americans rises and a variety of reforms to the Social Security system are considered. Any reform needs to take into account the effects and rationale of the Social Security Earnings Test and the Actuarial Adjustment Factor. We describe these incentives, and emphasize that individuals who claim benefits before the NRA but continue to work, or return to the labor force, can reduce the early retirement penalty by suspending the collection of monthly benefits if they earn above the Earnings Test limit. We analyze benefit withholding patterns using data from the Master Beneficiary Files of the Social Security Administration, and present descriptive and exploratory evidence on the determinants of benefit withholding using data from the Health and Retirement Survey. We then investigate the importance of the Earnings Test limits for work and claiming behavior using a dynamic life-cycle model of labor supply, benefit claiming, and withholding. We use the latter framework to compare the consequences of a number of changes to the Earnings Test provision for the labor supply behavior and earnings of older Americans.

The Employment Effects of Social Security Disability Insurance in the Past 25 Years: A Study of Rejected Applicants Using Administrative Data

by Joyce Manchester, Jae Song, and Till von Wachter
SSA Project # NB08-08 • Program Interactions
National Bureau of Economic Research

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We use administrative longitudinal data on earnings, impairment, and mortality to replicate and extend Bound's seminal study of rejected applicants to federal Disability Insurance (DI). We confirm Bound's main result that rejected older male applicants do not exhibit substantial labor force participation. We show this result is stable over time, robust to more narrow control groups, and similar within gender, impairment, industry, and earnings groups. However, we also find that younger rejected applicants have substantial employment after application. To what extent this translates into potential employment for new beneficiaries depends on which group among them is considered "on the margin" of receiving DI. If we use initially rejected applicants—a large and growing fraction of new beneficiaries—the resulting counterfactual employment rate for younger applicants is low, too. We also find that rejected applicants bear signs of economically induced applicants. DI appears to induce a growing number of less successful workers to apply, an important fraction of which ends up without benefits and non-employed.

Health and the Factors Driving Medical Spending

by David M. Cutler
SSA Project # NB06-14 • Demographic Research
National Bureau of Economic Research

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With the rising cost of health care already a major concern for government, employers and individuals, one might reasonably ask what the future holds. This paper reports on a multi-faceted research agenda on the factors that influence health and health care costs over time, and what they suggest for the future. It focuses on demographic trends, trends in health and health behaviors, and medical advances as key aspects to forecasting medical spending. Age demographics are important, because of an increasing older population and a substantially higher level of medical spending at older ages. On top of these demographic changes, however, are increases in the level of medical spending at each age, as medical capability advances over time. At the same time, there has been substantial evolution over time in health behaviors and risk factors, such as smoking, obesity, and control of hypertension and high cholesterol. These risk factor changes have had a mixed influence on health trends to date and, depending on how health behaviors continue to evolve in the future, could be fundamental to population health in the future. Forecasting medical advances is also difficult. While there have been major medical advances in medical innovation in recent years, most of which have improved health, some have done so with expensive technological care, and some have contained costs with more effective disease and risk management. While the paper makes no attempt to quantitatively integrate the various influences on future health care costs, it discusses in substantial detail the factors that influence costs, the quantitative evidence that has been compiled on these various trends and influences, and how one would structure an integrative forecasting model from these component pieces.

How Do Lower-Income Families Think about Retirement?

by Helen Levy and Kristin S. Seefeldt
SSA Project # UM08-15 • Demographic Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-195

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How do low-income households think about retirement? Do they think about retirement? If so, when do they think they will retire, and what is it they plan to live on? In this paper, we present evidence on these questions based on 51 qualitative interviews with low-income families in the Detroit area. We find that the great majority of low-income households think about retirement, although this does not necessarily mean they are able to plan and/or save actively for retirement. Most respondents plan to retire as soon as they become eligible for Social Security or, in a few cases, private pensions.

How Does Modeling of Retirement Decisions at the Family Level Affect Estimates of the Impact of Social Security Policies on Retirement?

by Alan Gustman and Thomas Steinmeier
SSA Project # UM08-03 • Social Security and Retirement
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-179

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This paper analyzes how Social Security policies influence the retirement behavior of two earner couples when there is heterogeneity in time preference. Heterogeneity in time preference refers to differences among people in the rate at which they are willing to trade current for future incomes. Heterogeneity in time preference means there are differences among people in the rate at which they are willing to tradeoff between current and future Social Security benefits.

How Does Simplified Disclosure Affect Individuals' Mutual Fund Choices?

by John Beshears, James J. Choi, David Laibson, and Brigitte C. Madrian
SSA Project # NB08-Q4 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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We conduct an investment experiment designed to evaluate how the SEC's Summary Prospectus proposal—which seeks to simplify mutual fund disclosure—affects individual investors' mutual fund choices. Our subjects are Harvard staff members who allocate one equity portfolio and one bond portfolio. Subjects are randomly assigned to receive either statutory prospectuses or Summary Prospectuses. We find no evidence that the Summary Prospectus affects the quality of portfolio choices. The principal welfare gain from the Summary Prospectus appears to come from allowing investors to spend less time and effort to arrive at a portfolio decision similar to what they would have chosen after reading only the statutory prospectus.

How Pension Rules Affect Work and Contribution Patterns: A Behavioral Model of the Chilean Privatized Pension System

by Petra Todd and Viviana Vélez-Grajales
SSA Project # UM08-22 • International Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-193

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Chile has been at the forefront of pension reform, having switched in 1980 from a pay-as-you-go system to a fully funded privatized accounts system. The Chilean system served as a model for reform in many other Latin American countries and has also been considered by U.S. policy makers as a possible prototype for social security reform. One of the criticisms of the Chilean system is low coverage rates and contributions rates among certain segments of the population. In January 2008, the Chilean Congress passed several reforms aimed at increasing coverage and contribution rates and expanding the safety net provided by the system to poor households. This study evaluates how changes in pension system rules affect working behavior and pension contribution patterns using data from a new Chilean household survey administered in 2002 and 2004 linked with administrative data from the pension regulatory agency. It develops and estimates a dynamic model of decision-making about working in the covered or uncovered sectors of the economy and studies implications of changes in the pension system rules for pension accumulations. We find that working decisions of people age 18–40 are sensitive to changes in the number of years required to get a minimum pension and to changes in the level of minimum pension but are relatively insensitive to the level of fees charged by the pension system. Decreasing the requirements for a minimum pension or increasing the level of the minimum pension increases work in the covered labor market sector.

Immigrant-Native Fertility and Mortality Differentials in the United States

by Lucie Schmidt and Purvi Sevak
SSA Project # UM08-02 • Demographic Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-181

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Immigrants have been discussed as a means of alleviating fiscal pressures on Social Security. Their long-term impact on the Social Security system depends critically on their fertility and mortality patterns. In this paper, we examine the fertility and mortality patterns of immigrants to the United States and compare these patterns with those of non-immigrants. We find that both the recent and cumulative fertility of immigrant women is higher than that of native-born women, but that a large share of these differentials can be "explained" by differences in age structures, race and ethnicity, years in the United States, and country of origin. Using a synthetic cohort approach, we examine the role of years in the United States in more detail, and find no evidence of assimilation towards native-born fertility patterns. Consistent with previous research, we find evidence of a disruption effect on fertility—the fertility of immigrant women in the most recent arrival cohorts is low, but increases at a faster rate relative to both the fertility of immigrants from earlier cohorts and relative to the fertility of natives. We find that immigrants experience lower mortality than native-born individuals in the United States, and these differences remain even after controlling for underlying differences in observable characteristics. However we find that they do not exhibit differences in their subjective expectations of their mortality.

Immigration and Labor Market Outcomes in the Native Elderly Population

by George J. Borjas
SSA Project # NB08-10 • Demographic Research
National Bureau of Economic Research

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A rapidly increasing fraction of the elderly workforce is foreign-born. This paper uses data drawn from the 1960–2000 censuses and the post-1994 Current Population Surveys to examine the impact of immigration on various economic outcomes in the native elderly population. The analysis suggests that immigration had a depressing effect on the wage of competing native workers, and induced substantial reductions in labor supply and increases in retirement propensities in the native elderly population. The data also suggest that conditions in the labor market for elderly workers exhibit "excess sensitivity" to immigration-induced supply shifts. The wage elasticity typically found in national-level studies of the impact of immigration on the overall labor market lies around -0.3 or -0.4 (in other words, a 10-percent immigration induced supply shift in the size of a particular skill group lowers the wage of that group by 3 or 4 percent). In contrast, the wage elasticity in the elderly workforce seems to be twice as high. As a result, immigration had correspondingly large effects on the time allocation of elderly persons. A 10-percent immigration-induced increase in the size of the workforce lowers the employment rate of elderly men by 7 percentage points and increases the probability of receiving Social Security benefits by 6 percentage points.

Individuals' Responses to Social Security Reform

by Adeline Delavande and Susann Rohwedder
SSA Project # UM08-08 • Social Security and Retirement
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-182

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The Social Security trust fund is predicted to be depleted by 2041. While there are several viable reform proposals to restore long-term solvency of the Social Security system, one important element that is critical to the success of any reform remains unknown: how will individuals respond to, for example, a cut of their Social Security benefits. Will they work longer or save more or both, and to what extent will their response make up for the cut in benefits? In this paper we use data from the HRS Internet Survey where we asked respondents directly what they would do if everyone's Social Security benefits were cut by 30 percent. At a qualitative level, we find important differences in the response by sex, marital status, and SES, among others. We conduct a detailed quantitative analysis of response to timing of Social security claiming and find that on average individuals would postpone claiming Social Security by 1.13 years. If this time was spent working by everyone then the annual Social Security benefit would drop on average by 20 percent rather than the initial 30 percent imposed by the reform. In other words the response to claim later and work longer would make up for one third of the initial cut in Social Security benefits.

Interactions in the Labor Market Behavior of Couples over the Life Course

by Chinhui Juhn and Simon Potter
SSA Project # NB08-03 • Demographic Research
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Using the matched March Current Population Surveys for 1968–2007 we examine the extent to which husbands and wives coordinate their labor supply over different stages in the life cycle. We examine within couple correlations in year-to-year changes in weeks and annual hours worked. We find that correlations of couples' labor supply changes substantially rise with age, consistent with the notion that couples' time at home are substitutes during child-bearing ages, but are complements at older ages. We also find that labor supply changes have become more positively correlated with each successive birth cohort as participation rates of married men and women converged. The exception appears to be the youngest aged couples of the post Baby Boom cohort for whom husbands' and wives' hours strongly negatively co-vary upon birth of a child.

Labor Market and Immigration Behavior of Middle-Aged and Elderly Mexicans

by Emma Aguila and Julie Zissimopoulos
SSA Project # UM08-14 • International Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-192

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In this study we analyzed the retirement behavior of Mexicans with migration spells to the United States that returned to Mexico and non-migrants. Our analysis is based on rich panel data from the Mexican Health and Aging Study (MHAS). Approximately 9 percent of MHAS respondents aged 50 and older reported having lived or worked in the United States. These return migrants were more likely to be working at older ages than non-migrants. Consistent with much of the prior research on retirement in the United States and other developed countries, Mexican non-migrants and return migrants were responsive to institutional incentives. Both groups were more likely to retire if they had publicly provided health insurance and pensions. In addition, receipt of U.S. Social Security benefits increased retirement rates among return migrants. Return migrants were more likely to report being in poor health and this also increased the likelihood of retiring. The 2004 draft of an Agreement on Social Security would coordinate benefits across United States and Mexico boundaries to protect the benefits of persons who have worked in foreign countries. The agreement would likely increase the number of authorized and unauthorized Mexican workers and family members eligible for Social Security benefits. The responsiveness of current, older Mexican return migrants to pension benefits, suggests that an Agreement would affect the retirement behavior of Mexican migrants.

Labor Supply Effects of the Interaction between the Social Security Disability and Retirement Programs at Full Retirement Age

by Nicole Maestas and Na Yin
SSA Project # UM08-13 • Program Interactions
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-194

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The Social Security DI program has long been thought to impose a strong work disincentive. Nevertheless, its causal effect on labor supply has been difficult to estimate. We take a new look at this question by exploiting the fact that DI benefits are payable only until full retirement age (FRA), at which point they are converted to retired worker benefits, and the implicit greater-than-100 percent tax rate on earnings is abruptly relaxed. Using a quasi-experimental research design, we examine whether the DI work disincentives are binding by comparing changes in labor force participation rates before and after the FRA for DI beneficiaries versus non-beneficiaries. We find a relative increase in labor force participation at FRA for DI beneficiaries of 7 percentage points, and argue that this is likely a lower bound on the latent work capacity of DI recipients.

Marital Histories and Economic Well-Being

by Ben Karney, Amy Rauer, and Julie Zissimopoulos
SSA Project # UM08-10 • Demographic Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-180

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Compared to unmarried individuals married individuals report greater average wealth. A restricted focus on current marital status risks misrepresenting the effects of marriage on wealth, as an increasing proportion of older adults have been divorced and remarried, having lived through the dramatic upheavals in family structure from the 1960s through the 1980s. To shed light on the associations between a lifetime of marriage events and wealth near retirement, we used panel data from the Health and Retirement Study and developed categories of marital experiences that acknowledged current status, type, number and date of past marital disruptions and total duration of time spent married across the lifespan. We found that the route individuals took to get to their current marital status were important predictors of wealth levels near retirement and were different for males and females. Observable differences in lifetime earnings, mortality risk, risk aversion, other characteristics such as education and number of children, explained much of the wealth difference between married and remarried individuals however neither observable characteristics nor sources of other wealth from pensions and Social Security were enough to explain the large differences in wealth accumulation between single and married women and individuals experiencing more than one marital disruption. Given the higher divorce rate, prevalence of multiple divorces and earlier age of divorce of the Baby Boomer cohort compared to earlier cohorts, an understanding of how marriage disruptions over the lifecycle impact savings is increasingly important for understanding the economic security of retirees.

The Market Value of Social Security

by John Geanakoplos and Stephen P. Zeldes
SSA Project # NB08-11 • Social Security and Retirement
National Bureau of Economic Research

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The Social Security Administration calculates a number of measures to assess the financial state of the system. This requires assigning a current value to the stream of benefit payments and payroll tax revenues that can be expected in the future. The traditional actuarial approach to making these calculations ignores risk, and assigns an expected value. Private financial markets would value these future costs and revenues differently by adjusting for uncertainty and risk. In exploratory work completed last year, our focus was on the market value of already obligated future benefits. The idea was to value future Social Security benefit obligations in a way that accounts for future risks and uncertainties in a way that investors would do if they regarded these payments as liabilities of their own businesses. In this study, we expand the analysis by estimating the market value for the Social Security system as a whole. We first estimate the market value of Social Security's future expenditures (worker benefits) and receipts (worker contributions obtained from payroll taxes). In addition to already-obligated benefits (the focus of our preliminary work), we consider the full stream of benefits and payroll tax contributions that can be expected in the future. We then construct market-based (i.e., risk-adjusted) estimates of three common measures of Social Security's financial health, and compare these estimates to those obtained using the traditional SSA methods with no correction for the price of risk. Using this market-based approach, and applying risk adjustment empirically, we estimate that the 75-year open group unfunded liability is 30 percent lower than the SSA estimates using actuarial methods.

A Matter of Trust: Understanding Worldwide Public Pension

by Kent Smetters and Walter Theseira
SSA Project # NB08-15 • International Research
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Fundamental reform of social security systems from traditional pay-as-you-go defined benefit systems toward defined-contribution accounts represents one of the most important fiscal policy changes worldwide during the past century. Current explanations of this phenomenon lack theoretical justification or empirical support. In fact, the traditional pension model is likely superior along several important dimensions. So why have so many countries reformed? Adding to this puzzle is that these reforms have taken on numerous shapes and sizes across the world, and typically have been larger in developing countries facing less severe demographic problems. We propose a simple model of "intergenerational trust" that is consistent with these stylized facts. Empirical analysis is provided that supports the basic tenets of the model.

The Optimal Design of Social Security Benefits

by Shinichi Nishiyama and Kent Smetters
SSA Project # UM08-19 • Social Security and Retirement
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-197

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The United States Social Security system is fairly unique in that it explicitly allows for a progressive formulation of retirement benefits by assigning a larger replacement rate to workers with small pre-retirement wages. In contrast, the public pension systems in other countries often replace a constant fraction of pre-retirement wages, although the length of the "averaging period" is typically shorter relative to the U.S. This paper examines the ex-ante optimal U.S. Social Security benefit structure using the model developed in Nishiyama and Smetters (2007). On one hand, progressivity in the benefit structure provides risk sharing against shocks that are difficult to insure privately. On the other hand, progressivity introduces various marginal tax rates that distort labor supply. Rather surprisingly, we find that the ex-ante best U.S. Social Security replacement rate structure is fairly "flat." Intuitively, the relatively long averaging period used in the U.S. system formulation already provides some insurance against negative idiosyncratic shocks, but in a manner that is more efficient than explicit redistribution.

Pension Reform in Mexico: The Evolution of Pension Fund Management Fees and their Effect on Pension Balances

by Emma Aguila, Michael Hurd and Susann Rohwedder
SSA Project # UM08-16 • International Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-196

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In 1997 Mexico introduced Personal Retirement Accounts (PRAs) which, after a transition phase, will completely replace the pay-as-you-go (PAYG) system. We give a detailed overview of the relevant institutional framework, the market of PRA providers and how it has evolved since the 1997 reform. We use administrative data obtained from CONSAR, the regulatory agency of the PRA system to assess how pension fund management fees affect pension accumulations. We find that fees can drain up to a quarter of individuals' pension savings.

The Perception of Social Security Incentives for Labor Supply and Retirement: The Median Voter Knows More than You'd Think

by Jeffrey B. Liebman and Erzo F.P. Luttmer
SSA Project # NB08-01 • Social Security and Retirement
National Bureau of Economic Research

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The degree to which the Social Security tax distorts labor supply decisions depends on the extent to which individuals recognize that future benefits are based on how much they worked. To measure the perceived linkage between labor supply and Social Security benefits, we administer a survey about the Social Security benefit rules to a representative sample of Americans aged 50–70. We find that the majority of respondents believe that their Social Security benefits increase with labor supply, i.e., that the Social Security benefit rules provide a positive work incentive. The magnitude of this perceived incentive varies across respondents, but people generally cite an incentive that is somewhat greater than the actual figure. We also surveyed people about their understanding of various provisions in the Social Security benefit rules. We find that some of these provisions (e.g., effects of delayed benefit claiming, and rules on widow benefits) are relatively well understood while others (rules on spousal benefits, provisions on which years of earnings are taken into account) are less well understood.

Preparation for Retirement, Financial Literacy and Cognitive Resources

by Adeline Delavande, Susann Rohwedder, and Robert Willis
SSA Project # UM08-07 • Social Security and Retirement
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-190

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Traditional economic models assume that individuals have full information and act perfectly rationally. However, we show that there is considerable variation in financial literacy in the population and propose modeling the acquisition of financial knowledge in a human capital production framework. The model makes several predictions, notably with respect to portfolio choice. For example, it helps explain household nonparticipation in the stock market for some fraction of the population, and it provides guidance about the share of risky assets to hold for other types of households. Estimation of the human capital production function for financial knowledge on data from the Cognitive Economics Survey yields results that are consistent with important features of the model.

A Primer on 401(k) Loans

by John Beshears, James J. Choi, David Laibson, and Brigitte C. Madrian
SSA Project # NB08-09 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Although the popular press and politicians often describe 401(k) loans as a problem, classical economic theory has a more benign view. Loans from a 401(k) can relax liquidity constraints and increase household utility. Moreover, loan provisions may have the subtle effect of raising net asset accumulation by making 401(k) participation more appealing: employees who can access their 401(k) assets if they need them may be willing to put more money into an otherwise illiquid 401(k) account. Our research suggests that 401(k) loans are neither a blessing nor a bogeyman. Conditional on borrowing to finance consumption, we show that a 401(k) loan may be a reasonable source of credit in many circumstances. We further show that the net impact of 401(k) loans on asset accumulation is likely to be small (and could be either positive or negative) for a reasonable range of parameter assumptions. Our empirical analysis also suggests that it may be possible to structure the provision of 401(k) loans in ways that reduce their potential to negatively impact retirement wealth accumulation, as we find that 401(k) loan utilization is responsive to the types of loan features adopted by firms. 401(k) loan utilization is higher in plans that have lower minimum loan amounts and in plans that allow employees to take out multiple loans. 401(k) loan utilization is lower in plans that have higher loan interest rates.

Retirement Wealth Across Cohorts: The Role of Earnings Inequality and Pension Changes

by Ann Huff Stevens
SSA Project # UM08-18 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-186

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Changes in labor markets over the past 30 years suggest upcoming changes in the distribution of wealth at retirement. Baby boom cohorts have spent the majority of their prime earnings years in a labor market with increased earnings inequality. This paper investigates how changes in lifetime earnings distributions affect the distribution of retirement wealth among cohorts retiring over the next decade. I use data from the Health and Retirement Study from 1992 to 2004 to estimate the relationship between lifetime earnings, pre-retirement private wealth and Social Security wealth. I show that changes in the lower half of the male earnings distribution explain a substantial portion of changes in the distribution of pre-retirement wealth. Growth in women's earnings across the cohorts does not offset these declines in wealth associated with male earnings. When pensions are added to the measure of wealth, the role of earnings is even larger, reflecting a strong correlation between changes in earnings across these cohorts and changes in the values of their employer-provided pensions. These pension changes do not appear to operate via changes in pension structures (defined benefit versus defined contribution). The present value of wealth from future Social Security benefits, in contrast, grows in real terms throughout most of the distribution. At the bottom of the male distribution of Social Security wealth, reductions in lifetime earnings limit this growth in real benefits, while at the top of the distribution earnings growth amplifies expected growth in Social Security wealth.

Reverse Mortgages: A Closer Look at HECM Loans

by Tonja Bowen Bishop and Hui Shan
SSA Project # NB08-Q2 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Housing wealth is often the most important wealth component for many elderly homeowners in the United States. Reverse mortgages allow elderly homeowners to consume housing wealth without having to sell or move out of their homes. However, very few eligible homeowners used reverse mortgages to achieve consumption smoothing until recent years when the reverse mortgage market in the U.S. has witnessed substantial growth. This paper examines all Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) loans that were originated between 1989 and 2007 and insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). We show how characteristics of HECM loans and HECM borrowers have evolved over time, we compare borrowers with non-borrowers, and we analyze loan outcomes using a hazard model. In addition, we conduct numerical simulations on HECM loans that were originated in 2007 to illustrate how the profitability of the FHA insurance program depends on factors such as termination rates, housing price appreciation, and the payment schedule. The analysis performed in this paper serves as the first step to understand the implication of recent growth in the reverse mortgage market. Our results also suggest policy makers who are evaluating the current HECM program should practice caution in predicting future profitability.

Tapping Assets in Retirement: Which Assets, How and When?

by James Poterba, Steven Venti, and David A. Wise
SSA Project # NB08-06 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Just two or three decades ago retirement saving in the United States was based heavily on employer-provided defined benefit plans that provided distributions in the form of lifetime annuities. With the transition to 401(k) and similar programs, the decision about when and how to withdraw retirement resources rests instead with the individual. And to date, assets held in personal retirement accounts have rarely been annuitized. So what are the drawdown patterns for these assets? And how do they relate to the drawdown of other asset categories? Our earlier work focused on the drawdown of home equity in retirement, concluding that home equity is typically not used to support general consumption in retirement, but is instead held as a buffer against shocks, such as the death of a spouse or entry into a nursing home. In this study, similar results are found for 401(k) accounts and for total wealth in all asset categories. Following retirement, the percentage of dollars withdrawn from personal accounts each year appears to fall below the rate of return earned on existing balances, allowing balances to accumulate further. This is true even after people are required to make minimum withdrawals at age 70½ . We find that personal account assets of continuing two-person families tend to increase throughout the age range we consider, through age 85. The retirement assets of continuing one-person families, although much lower than the assets of continuing two-person families, also tend to increase throughout the age range we consider. Personal retirement assets do decline, sometimes precipitously, when two-person families become one-person families through the death of a spouse, divorce, or separation. The overall finding, however, is that in the absence of a major life event, people tend to conserve their assets as they age.

The Taxation of Social Security Benefits as an Approach to Means Testing

by Sarena Goodman and Jeffrey Liebman
SSA Project # NB08-02 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Many Social Security reform proposals suggest cutting benefits in ways that concentrate the benefit cuts on those most able to bear them. The most common approach adjusts the Social Security benefit formula to reduce replacement rates by a greater amount for those with high levels of lifetime earnings. An alternative approach is to means test Social Security benefits, targeting benefit reductions on those with substantial non-Social Security financial resources. Since 1984, a limited amount of means testing has been accomplished by subjecting a portion of Social Security benefits to the income tax. This paper considers the advantages and disadvantages of means testing as an alternative to progressive benefit formula adjustments and analyzes how close the current taxation of Social Security benefits in the U.S. comes to achieving the potential benefits of means testing. The paper finds that retirement income sources other than Social Security benefits have substantial predictive power for consumption levels in retirement, implying that efforts to target Social Security benefit reductions on those most able to bear them may be more effective if done using information on both Social Security and non- Social Security income sources.

The Transformation in Who is Expected to Work in the United States and How it Changed the Lives of Single Mothers and People with Disabilities

by Richard V. Burkhauser, Mary C. Daly, Jeff Larrimore, and Joyce Kwok
SSA Project # UM08-Q2 • Program Interactions
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-187

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In the 1990s, social expectations of single mothers shifted towards the notion that most should, could, and would work, if given the proper incentives. This shift in expectations culminated in the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act in 1996, commonly known as welfare reform. As a result, ADFC/TANF caseloads fell along with cash transfers to single mothers who did not work. A decade later the earnings and household income of single mothers are significantly higher and moving more in synch with the U.S. economy. In stark contrast and despite espoused goals to the contrary, public policies toward working age men and women with disabilities have remained imbued with the notion that most cannot and thus, would not work, no matter what incentives they faced. As a result, SSDI/SSI expenditures and caseloads have increased and the earnings and household income of working age men and women with disabilities have fallen, leaving them even further behind the average working age American than they were a decade ago. Using data from the Current Population Survey we follow the economic well-being and employment of single mothers and working age men and women with disabilities over the past two major United States business cycles (1982–1993 and 1993–2004) and show that despite the dramatic decline in ADFC/TANF funding, single mothers' economic well-being, labor earnings and employment all have risen substantially. In contrast, despite the dramatic increase in SSDI/SSI funding, the economic wellbeing of working age men and women with disabilities remained stagnant, as their labor earnings and employment plummeted.

The Under-Reporting of Transfers in Household Surveys: Its Nature and Consequences

by Bruce D. Meyer, Wallace K.C. Mok, and James X. Sullivan
SSA Project # NB08-12 • Program Interactions
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Benefit receipt in major household surveys is often under-reported. In recent years, as many as half of the dollars received through Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Workers' Compensation has not been reported in the Current Population Survey (CPS). High rates of understatement are found for many other government transfer programs and in datasets such as the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). These datasets are among our most important for analyzing incomes and their distribution as well as transfer receipt. Thus, this understatement has major implications for our understanding of the economic circumstances of the population and the working of government programs. We provide estimates of the extent of transfer underreporting for the main transfer programs and the major nationally representative household surveys. We obtain estimates by comparing weighted totals reported by households for these programs with those published by government agencies. Our results show sharp differences across programs and surveys as well as over time. These differences are informative as to the relative importance of the various reasons for under-reporting. The estimates indicate the magnitude of bias in existing estimates and can also be used to adjust estimated program effects on incomes and estimates of program take-up.

Who Determines When You Retire? Peer Effects and Retirement

by John M.R. Chalmers, Woodrow T. Johnson, and Jonathan Reuter
SSA Project # NB08-13 • Social Security and Retirement
National Bureau of Economic Research

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We study the factors that affect the choice of retirement date for a large sample of retirement-eligible Oregon state employees between 1992 and 2003. Given the complexities of the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System, we hypothesize that individuals will infer their optimal retirement behavior, in part, from the retirement behavior of their coworkers. Indeed, controlling for individual retirement incentives and characteristics, we find that individuals are economically significantly more likely to retire in months when more of their coworkers retire. The facts that this positive correlation is robust to the inclusion of numerous fixed effects and controls and survives estimation using two distinct sets of instrumental variables lead us to conclude that it reflects peer effects in the choice of retirement date. With respect to the possible welfare consequences of peer effects, our preliminary evidence is mixed, but points to modest costs and benefits. Interestingly, we find little evidence of peer effects amongst employees whose salaries are in the bottom 25th percentile, where financial literacy is likely to be the lowest.

August 2008

Aging, Asset Markets, and Asset Returns

by Axel Borsch-Supan, and Alexander Ludwig
SSA Project # NB08-14 • Macroeconomic Analyses of Social Security
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This study looks at the complex interactions between demographic trends, public pension reform, labor markets, and capital markets in a global context. The investigation connects several strands of literature. First, it investigates how strong "asset meltdown" effects are in an aging economy that is embedded in global financial markets. Second, it focuses on the importance of labor supply in particular, how policies affect labor markets, and how labor markets in return affect financial market performance. Third, it considers the impact of public pension reform on both capital and labor markets. And fourth, it looks ahead at the overall macroeconomic outcomes that result from these changes. The effects of population aging on the value of capital are estimated to be modest, and moderated by international capital flows. No major asset meltdown is predicted by the model. The changes in labor markets, however, may significant impact macroeconomic outcomes. The main effect of demographic change is that the number of gainfully employed people could fall sharply over time, relative to the population of consumers. This will put pressure on productive capacity of the economy, and could contain future economic growth. The study concludes by reiterating the importance of capital markets in an aging society, as the only way of distributing resources geographically, over time, and across generations.

Deferred Annuities and Strategic Asset Allocation

by Wolfram J. Horneff and Raimond H. Maurer
SSA Project # UM08-24 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-178

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The optimal portfolio choice and consumption pattern has been derived over the lifecycle for households facing labor income, capital market, and mortality risk. In addition to stocks and bonds, households also have access to deferred annuities. Deferred annuities offer a hedge against mortality risk and provide similar benefits as Social Security. The paper shows that a considerable fraction of wealth should be annuitized to skim the return enhancing mortality credit. The remaining liquid wealth (stocks and bonds) is used to hedge labor income risk during work life and to earn the equity premium. There seems to be a marginal difference between a strategy involving deferred annuities and one where the investor can purchase immediate life annuities.

The Housing Bubble and Retirement Security

by Alicia H. Munnell and Mauricio Soto
SSA Project # BC08-13 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-13

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House prices rose 60 percent between 2000 and 2007 before the housing bubble burst. The question is whether the housing boom made people better or worse prepared for retirement. Theory says that infinitely-lived households experience no increase in their real net worth when housing prices increase and would therefore have no reason to borrow against the increment in their home equity to increase their consumption. Two pieces of evidence suggest that they did tap their equity: the big increase in mortgage borrowing has accompanied the run-up in house prices, and a number of studies have reported a positive relationship between house prices and consumption. Using the 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) this paper investigates the probability of households extracting home equity through an increase in housing-related debt, the probability that they use their housing-related borrowing for consumption, and finally the factors that determine the level of consumption spending out of their increased debt. The results show that while homeowners appear to take the present discounted value of future rents into account, many of them extracted equity and used it for consumption. A substantial proportio—perhaps 30 percent—of older households will be less secure in retirement because of the housing bubble.

How Much Do State Economic and Other Circumstances Affect Retirement Behavior?

by Alicia H. Munnell, Mauricio Soto, Robert K. Triest, and Natalia A. Zhivan
SSA Project # BC08-16 • Social Security and Retirement
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-12

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Economic conditions and labor force participation vary significantly across the states of the Union. Despite these marked differences, little is known about the reasons for such variations in retirement patterns. Using the Current Population Survey for the period 1977–2007, this paper demonstrates that the differences in the labor force participation of men age 55–64 are related to the labor market conditions, the nature of employment, and the employee characteristics in each state as well as a pseudo replacement rate. These variables explain more than one-third of the total variation. Even moving to a fixed effects model only cuts the explanatory power by half. The question remains, however, whether these relationships reflect different populations or unique aspects of the state. To answer that question we turn to the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). We estimate equations for the probability of working and for the expected retirement for men in their late fifties and early sixties. In each case, the first equation includes just the state-level variables and the second the state-level variables and the HRS demographic and economic information for each individual. The results show that the state-level variables explain almost none of the variation in the probability of working or the expected retirement age, but most of the state-level variables are statistically significant both before and after the inclusion of the HRS information.

Should the Poor Own Stocks? The Role of Social Security

by Ying Chen and Kent Smetters
SSA Project # NB07-08 • Social Security and Retirement
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This paper examines how households should optimally allocate their portfolio choices between stocks and bonds in a lifecycle model where they face uninsurable wage shocks and an uncertain lifetime. We include a progressive social security system that is wage indexed before retirement, as in many pay-as-you-go systems including the United States. Social security benefits are correlated with stock returns at a low frequency that is relevant for lifecycle retirement planning. We show that this model is able to more closely replicate the key stylized facts of portfolio choice relative to alternative specifications.

Will People Be Healthy Enough to Work Longer?

by Alicia H. Munnell, Mauricio Soto, and Alex Golub-Sass
SSA Project # BC08-12 • Demographic Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-11

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If Americans continue to retire at age 63, a great many will risk income shortfalls especially at older ages. Because work directly increases current income, Social Security benefits, retirement saving, and decreases the length of retirement, a logical solution would be to increase the age of retirement. But are Americans healthy enough to work longer? Using the National Health Interview Study, this paper shows that healthy life expectancy increased by about three years over 1970–2000 for the average 50-year old man. This increase is largely the result of men moving up the education ladder, with minimal increases within educational groups. Moreover, major disparities in healthy life expectancy remain between those in the bottom and top quartiles of the population. And these disparities mean that a vulnerable portion of the population—perhaps those who most need to work longer—might not be able to extend their work lives.

June 2008

The Efficiency of Pension Plan Investment Menus: Investment Choices in Defined Contribution Pension Plans

by Olivia Mitchell and Ning Tang
SSA Project # UM08-20 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-176

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Few previous studies have explored whether defined contribution retirement saving plans offer sufficiently diversified investment menus, though it is likely that these menus significantly shape workers' accumulations of retirement wealth. This paper assesses the efficiency and performance of 401(k) investment options offered by a large group of US employers. We show that the majority of plans is efficient compared to market benchmark indexes. Three performance measures underscore the fact that these plans tend to offer a sensible investment menu, when measured in terms of the menus' mean-variance efficiency, diversification, and participant utility. The key factor contributing to plan efficiency and performance is the particular set of funds offered, rather than the total number of investment options provided. We conclude that, in 401(k) arena, "more" is not necessarily "better."

What Good is Wealth Without Health? The Effect of Health on the Marginal Utility of Consumption

by Amy Finkelstein, Erzo F.P. Luttmer, and Matthew J. Notowidigdo
SSA Project # NB08-Q1 • Wealth and Retirement Income
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 14089

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We estimate how the marginal utility of consumption varies with health. To do so, we develop a simple model in which the impact of health on the marginal utility of consumption can be estimated from data on permanent income, health, and utility proxies. We estimate the model using the Health and Retirement Study's panel data on the elderly and near-elderly, and proxy for utility with measures of subjective well-being. We find robust evidence that the marginal utility of consumption declines as health deteriorates. Our central estimate is that a one-standard-deviation increase in the number of chronic diseases is associated with an 11 percent decline in the marginal utility of consumption relative to this marginal utility when the individual has no chronic diseases. The 95 percent confidence interval allows us to reject declines in marginal utility of less than 2 percent or more than 17 percent. Point estimates from a wide range of alternative specifications tend to lie within this confidence interval. We present some simple, illustrative calibration results that suggest that state dependence of the magnitude we estimate can have a substantial effect on important economic problems such as the optimal level of health insurance benefits and the optimal level of life-cycle savings.

May 2008

Asset Allocation and Location over the Life Cycle with Survival-Contingent Payouts

by Wolfram J. Horneff, Raimond H. Maurer, Olivia S. Mitchell, and Michael Z. Stamos
SSA Project # UM08-24 • Wealth and Retirement Income
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-177

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This paper shows how lifelong survival-contingent payouts can enhance investor wellbeing in the context of a portfolio choice model which integrates uninsurable labor income and asymmetric mortality expectations. Our model generates optimal asset location patterns indicating how much to hold in liquid versus illiquid survival contingent payouts over the lifetime, and also asset allocation paths, showing how to invest in stocks versus bonds. We confirm that the investor will gradually move money out of her liquid saving into survival-contingent assets to retirement and beyond, thereby enhancing her welfare by as much as 50 percent. The results are also robust to the introduction of uninsurable consumption shocks in housing expenses, income flows during the worklife and retirement, sudden changes in health status, and medical expenses.

April 2008

Adequacy of Economic Resources in Retirement and Returns-to-scale in Consumption

by Michael Hurd and Susann Rohwedder
SSA Project # UM07-07
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-174

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Most assessments of the adequacy of retirement resources are expressed as a comparison of preretirement income to immediate post-retirement income. Yet, among couples a substantial fraction of retirement years is eventually spent by the surviving spouse living alone. To the extent that singles need less than couples to maintain the same standard of living, assessments of the adequacy of economic resources that make no adjustment for widowing will systematically misstate economic preparation. We estimate returns-to-scale parameters in spending by older households, using data from the Consumption and Activities Mail Survey and apply these to assessments of adequacy of retirement resources.

An Assessment of Life-Cycle Funds

by Mauricio Soto, Robert K. Triest, Alex Golub-Sass, and Francesca Golub-Sass
SSA Project # BC06-01
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-10

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From 1964 until 2002, the State of Nebraska sponsored a defined contribution plan for its employees. During this period, the plan was unique among state pension plans because it was an individual account-type plan that offered participants the choice of a lump sum or annuity distribution upon retirement. Such a choice presents the opportunity to learn more about how individuals perceive financial risks and weigh various factors when deciding how to access their retirement benefits. This study reports the results of a new survey of Nebraska state workers who retired or terminated employment in 1997. The results offer a perspective on how individuals perceive their decisions 10 years later. The findings reveal three general themes. First, retirees tended to underestimate the financial risks associated with uninsured health care expenses. Sixty-five percent of retiree respondents said that they had initially underestimated such risk. Second, federal policies may influence the distribution decision. For example, many respondents cited tax penalties on lump sum distributions as a major factor in their decision, which is consistent with a high percentage choosing a nontaxable direct rollover distribution. Finally, the results provide a basis for cautious optimism that retirees will be able to successfully manage a present value sum distribution during retirement. Over 90 percent of retiree respondents reported that they were able to cover their living expenses 10 years after their retirement.

Forecasting Labor Force Participation and Economic Resources of the Early Baby Boomers

by Pierre-Carl Michaud and Susann Rohwedder
SSA Project # UM07-21
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2008-175

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This paper forecasts the retirement patterns and resources of the Early Baby Boomers by estimating forward-looking dynamic models of labor force participation, wealth accumulation and pension and Social Security benefit claiming for older workers using seven waves of HRS data. The two most important innovations of our proposed approach are the use of alternative measures of pension entitlements and the associated incentives, and accounting for subjective expectations about future work. Our main findings are that the Early Baby Boomers will work longer and claim Social Security later.

January 2008

Do Out-of-Pocket Health Care Costs Delay Retirement?

by Richard W. Johnson, Rudolph G. Penner, and Desmond Toohey
SSA Project # BC07-11
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-4

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Rising health care costs threaten many older Americans' financial security, perhaps leading people to delay retirement. For workers receiving health benefits from their employers, continued work reduces the risk of high out-of-pocket health care costs. Working longer also increases retirement incomes, making health care costs more affordable. This paper examines the impact of expected future out-of-pocket medical spending on retirement decisions. The results show that the premium costs associated with retirement before age 65 and expected out-of-pocket health care costs after 65 substantially delay retirement. A $1,000-increase in the own premium cost of retirement before age 65 lowers the likelihood that both men and women retire by about 0.1 percentage points, implying an elasticity of about ?0.058 for both groups. The estimated elasticity of retirement with respect to the present discounted value of expected post-65 health care costs range from ?0.16 to ?0.20 for men, and from ?0.14 to ?0.16 for women. Men with expected post-65 health care costs equal to the 90th percentile of the overall distribution retire 11 months later than those with health care costs equal to the 10th percentile of the overall distribution. For women, the difference is 12 months.

How the Income Tax Treatment of Saving and Social Security Benefits May Affect Boomers' Retirement Incomes

by Barbara A. Butrica, Karen E. Smith, and Eric J. Toder
SSA Project # BC07-09
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-3

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Income tax provisions affect the buildup of retirement assets during workers' careers and after-tax income following retirement. This paper uses the Urban Institute's DYNASIM model to simulate how potential changes in the tax treatment of retirement saving, Social Security benefits, and income from assets outside of retirement accounts may affect boomers' retirement incomes. Results show that changes in the income thresholds for taxing Social Security benefits have the largest impact on middle-income boomers, while changes in contribution limits for retirement saving plans and tax rates on capital gains and dividends have the largest impact on the highest income boomers.

The Implications of Career Lengths for Social Security

by Melissa M. Favreault and C. Eugene Steuerle
SSA Project # BC07-03
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-5

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While growing fiscal pressures and increasing life expectancy have prompted calls to raise retirement ages so that lifetime benefits would be concentrated in older ages, some fear that this change—without other adjustments—might harm long-career, lower-wage workers. Tying retirement benefit eligibility to years of service might protect lower-wage workers if they tend to start their careers relatively early and work more years prior to retirement than higher-wage workers. But higher disability rates and greater employment volatility could offset lower-wage workers' early labor force starts, and lead to fewer total years of service completed. Using survey data matched to administrative earnings records, we describe variation in work histories for current and near retirees by gender, education, and other important characteristics. We find that years of service are not likely to provide an effective way to protect the lowest-wage workers. Among other reasons, men and women with the least education also work the least.

A Micro-Level Analysis of Recent Increases in Labor Force Participation Among Older Workers

by Kevin E. Cahill, Michael D. Giandrea, and Joseph F. Quinn
SSA Project # BC07-15
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-8

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Aggregate data reveal a sizable increase in labor force participation rates since 2000 among American workers on the cusp of retirement, reverting back to levels for older men not seen since the 1970s. While these aggregate numbers are useful in that they document overall trends, they do not elucidate the reasons behind workers' decisions. The Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally-representative, longitudinal survey of older Americans that spans 1992 to 2004, provides micro-level data regarding these retirement trends. Moreover, the HRS contains detailed information about the types of jobs older Americans are taking (e.g., full-time versus part-time, self-employed versus wage-and-salary, low-paying versus high-paying, blue collar versus white collar). This study capitalizes on the richness of the HRS data and explores labor force determinants and outcomes of older Americans, with an emphasis on retirees' choices in recent years. We present a cross-sectional and longitudinal description of the financial, health, and employment situation of older Americans. We then explore retirement determinants using multinomial logistic regression to model gradual retirement and logistic and OLS regression to model the work-leisure (whether to work) and hours intensity (how much to work) decisions of older workers. Evidence suggests that the majority of older Americans retire gradually, in stages, and that younger retirees continue to respond to financial incentives just as their predecessors did. In addition, the retirement decisions of younger and middle-aged retirees appear similar in the face of macro-level changes in the early part of this decade.

Older Women's Income and Wealth Packages in Cross-National Perspective

by Timothy M. Smeeding, Janet C. Gornick, Eva Sierminska, and Maurice Leach
SSA Project # BC07-10
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-1

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In this report, we assess the economic well-being of elderly women in cross-national perspective, comparing the United States to four other rich countries: the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Sweden. These countries constitute an illuminating group, as they have diverse social policy systems, with respect to both social insurance and public assistance; and they have very different patterns of private wealth holding. Using the Luxembourg Wealth Study (LWS) which contains harmonized wealth micro-datasets from a number of industrialized countries, we analyze the income and wealth packages of older women's households, across these five countries. Our primary focus is on wealth, including both financial and non-financial assets. The LWS findings that we report are supplemented by results on older women's employment rates from the longstanding LIS income datasets and by a new institutional database which we have developed for LWS users.

Participant Perceptions and Decision-Making Concerning Retirement Benefits

by Colleen E. Medill
SSA Project # BC06-S3
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-9

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From 1964 until 2002, the State of Nebraska sponsored a defined contribution plan for its employees. During this period, the plan was unique among state pension plans because it was an individual account-type plan that offered participants the choice of a lump sum or annuity distribution upon retirement. Such a choice presents the opportunity to learn more about how individuals perceive financial risks and weigh various factors when deciding how to access their retirement benefits. This study reports the results of a new survey of Nebraska state workers who retired or terminated employment in 1997. The results offer a perspective on how individuals perceive their decisions 10 years later. The findings reveal three general themes. First, retirees tended to underestimate the financial risks associated with uninsured health care expenses. Sixty-five percent of retiree respondents said that they had initially underestimated such risk. Second, federal policies may influence the distribution decision. For example, many respondents cited tax penalties on lump sum distributions as a major factor in their decision, which is consistent with a high percentage choosing a nontaxable direct rollover distribution. Finally, the results provide a basis for cautious optimism that retirees will be able to successfully manage a present value sum distribution during retirement. Over 90 percent of retiree respondents reported that they were able to cover their living expenses 10 years after their retirement.

The Rising Age at Retirement in Industrial Countries

by Gary Burtless
SSA Project # BC07-08
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-6

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In the half century after World War II labor force participation in the population past age 60 fell substantially in nearly all rich countries. Declining participation rates became a matter of major concern when it became clear that population growth rates were slowing and the average age of citizens in most rich countries was rising. A rapidly growing number of aged was living longer but spending a smaller number of years in the paid workforce. This paper examines recent trends in retirement behavior in 21 rich countries. It proposes three straightforward measures of labor force exit, and it estimates labor force exit rates using a variety of labor supply indicators, including the labor force participation rate, the employment rate, average work hours in the population, and average weekly earnings in the population. The results suggest that in recent years exit rates from paid work are declining among older citizens. This pattern is found both for men and women, and it is found in a large majority of countries in the analysis. In many countries labor force participation rates at older ages reached a low point in the 1990s, but since that time participation rates have increased. The rebound in male participation rates has been substantial in several countries. On average across the 21 countries, participation rates among 60–64 year-old men have rebounded over 9 percentage points since a low point in the participation rate was reached, usually in the 1990s. This rise in the participation rate of 60–64 year-old men has offset almost one-quarter of the decline in participation rates that occurred between 1960 and the low point of participation rates.

Saving and Wealth Accumulation in the PSID, 1984–2005

by Barry P. Bosworth and Sarah Anders
SSA Project # BC07-07
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-2

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This paper reports on a project to construct and evaluate a wealth and saving dataset for those households who responded to the supplementary wealth and active saving modules of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) over the period of 1984 to 2005. The PSID is unique in providing household-level estimates of active saving and net wealth accumulation. The dataset includes measures of wealth, net wealth accumulation, and active saving covering seven wealth surveys and six periods for saving and wealth accumulation. For individual years, the sample sizes vary between 7 and 8 thousand families. The number of families participating in multiple periods is less, but 1,963 have participated in all seven of the wealth surveys. In comparisons with the SCF, we find that the wealth data of the PSID yield very similar results for the bottom 95 percent of the wealth distribution, but the very wealthy are underrepresented in the PSID. The major advantage is that the PSID has multiple observations on a family's wealth over the two decades of coverage.

The Trajectory of Wealth in Retirement

by David A. Love, Michael G. Palumbo, and Paul A. Smith
SSA Project # BC07-S2
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2008-7

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As the baby boomers begin to retire, a great deal remains unknown about the evolution of wealth toward the end of life. In this paper, we develop a new measure of household resources that converts total financial, nonfinancial, and annuitized assets into an expected annual amount of wealth per person. We use this measure, which we call "annualized comprehensive wealth" to investigate spend-down behavior among older households in the Health and Retirement Study. Our analysis indicates that, in (real) dollar terms, the median household's wealth declines more slowly than its remaining life expectancy, so that real annualized wealth actually tends to rise with age over retirement. Comparing the estimated age profiles for annualized wealth with profiles simulated from several different life cycle models, we find that a model that takes into account uncertain longevity, uncertain medical expenses, and (for higher-income retirees) intended bequests lines up best with the HRS data.

December 2007

An Expanded Model of Health and Retirement

by David M. Cutler, Jeffrey B. Liebman, Mark Shepard, and Seamus Smyth
SSA Project # NB07-15
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This paper is part of a longer-term effort to model health and retirement, and to apply the model in identifying an optimal eligibility age for Social Security that is based on underlying health. The most recent innovations to the model, which are incorporated in this study, handle married couples and single workers, rather than treating all workers as single. In addition, our model now unifies disability and retirement in a single structural framework, as well as reflecting more fully the differences in retirement behavior among different types of households. The new version also uses the higher quality data available from the restricted versions of the Health and Retirement Survey, which has now been applied to the model in order to make preliminary estimates of an optimal retirement age. We parameterize our models using a range of data on how health status at each age has evolved in the U.S. over the past four decades. Comparable health status is found to be 6 years older, when comparing mortality risk between 1960 and 2000; 5 years older, when comparing life expectancy over this period; 10 years older, when comparing self-reported health status; and possibly more than 10 years, when comparing direct physical measures and some functional limitations. Considering all the evidence, it is clear that health near traditional retirement ages has improved markedly over time. This should translate in our models to an older optimal age of eligibility for Social Security, though rising incomes and productivity could offset in part the effects of improving health. Some initial simulations of the model suggest that the optimal retirement age might be 2 years later today than it was in 1962, when it was set at age 62. These results are preliminary, however, and will be updated in future work, as we continue to refine and calibrate the model parameters.

Consumption and Income Poverty for those 65 and Over

by Bruce D. Meyer and James X. Sullivan
SSA Project # NB07-04
National Bureau of Economic Research

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The goal of this study is to estimate and evaluate a broad range of poverty measures for individuals aged 65 and older, focusing on the important differences between income-based measures and consumption-based measures. The distinction is important because income and consumption diverge more significantly at older ages, when accumulated assets can be used to maintain consumption even when income is low. The recent growth of 401(k) plans, IRAs, long-term care insurance, and reverse mortgages; and the higher ownership rates of durable goods at older ages, such as housing and cars—all make the distinction between income and consumption measures more important to poverty measurement in older age groups. Our results show that consumption based measures of poverty indicate greater improvements in well-being than are evident in alternative income based measures for individuals 65 and over. Between 1980 and 2004, consumption poverty for this group fell by 11.6 percentage points, while poverty based on a comprehensive measure of income fell by 6.4 percentage points. During this period we also find substantial declines in consumption based deep poverty, but increases in income based deep poverty. Sensible changes from the official price index lead to even larger declines in poverty during this period. Overall, the well-being of those 65 and over has improved more than either official income or alternative income poverty measures indicate.

Demographic Change and the Equity Premium

by Wolfgang Kuhle, Alexander Ludwig, and Axel Borsch-Supan
SSA Project # NB07-07
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Changing age demographics are reducing the relative size of the working age population as a fraction of the overall population. The increased scarcity of labor, relative to physical capital, would be expected to increase wages and, at the same time, decrease the rate of return on capital. This result has been illustrated in our previous work. The question addressed in this paper is how this will translate into financial market returns and, more specifically, on the relative return on riskier assets like stocks, as compared with safer assets like government bonds. This differential is typically referred to as the equity premium. Will stocks become relatively more attractive investments or relatively less attractive investments during a period of significant population aging worldwide? The paper includes both a theoretical and an empirical component. A central finding of the theoretical analysis is that the equity premium increases when smaller cohorts enter the labor market, as we expect to be the case over the coming decades. Thus riskier investments like stocks would be expected to elicit comparatively higher returns than safer investments like government bonds. We follow up our theoretical analysis with simulations designed to quantify these effects. The simulations indicate that the expected decrease of the risky rate of return to capital until 2030 is in the range of 1.2 percentage points. However, the decrease in the risk-free interest rate on government bonds is slightly higher than that, so that the equity premium increases by about 0.28 percentage points.

Demographic Trends, Housing Equity, and the Financial Security of Future Retirees

by James Poterba, Steven Venti, and David A. Wise
SSA Project # NB07-06
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This paper is part of a continuing series on the changing asset accumulations of individuals as they approach retirement. This study adds to this series an analysis of how home ownership, housing equity and housing value have changed in recent decades and, in particular, how housing equity has changed near retirement age. We find that the age profile of home ownership rates has changed little over the past two decades. This stability suggests that predictions of how demographic trends will affect the number of homeowners can be made with some confidence. On the other hand, there have been very large increases in the value of owner-occupied homes and in home equity over the past two decades, caused by many factors, including but not exclusively demographic trends. This makes forecasting home values and the accumulation of housing equity among individual households more difficult. We did, however, use cohort data to compare the home value, home equity, and mortgage debt of cohorts approaching retirement over the past 20 years, as a basis for projecting forward. Recent retirees have both more home equity and more mortgage debt than past retirees, which suggests that they are likely to hold more home equity at older ages than past retirees. Cohort data also show that over a 20-year period marked by very large increases in home equity, the ratio of home equity to total non-pension wealth remained remarkably stable. This empirical regularity leads us to consider whether projections of the home equity of future retirees might be based on forecasts of the wealth of future households. The recent turmoil in the housing market adds interest to such projections but also draws attention to the large changes in home value and home equity that can occur over a short period of time.

The Effect of Economic Conditions on the Employment of Workers Nearing Retirement Age

by Till von Wachter
SSA Project # BC06-D2
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-25

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The decline in employment of men near retirement age was concentrated between the early 1970s and 1980s, a period of dramatic shifts in the United States labor market. The paper begins to explore the effect of these shifts on retirement behavior. To do so, it analyzes the effect of changes in economic conditions at the individual, industry, and state level on employment of workers near retirement. Declines in labor demand reduce employment of older workers if their wages are rigid, possibly because of high replacement rates, habits, or implicit contracts. The paper gives a preliminary assessment of this potential mechanism by analyzing the response of relative employment of older and younger more and less educated workers to economic shocks. Preliminary results suggest that economic conditions are likely to have important effects on the employment of men near retirement age. However, the current evidence does not strongly suggest an explanation based on rigid wages or secular declines of economic conditions of low-skilled workers. An exception to this pattern is the manufacturing sector.

The Future of American Fertility

by Samuel H. Preston and Caroline Sten Hartnett
SSA Project # NB07-05
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 14498

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This paper reviews the major social and demographic forces influencing American fertility levels with the aim of predicting changes during the next three decades. Increases in the Hispanic population and in educational attainment are expected to have modest and offsetting effects on fertility levels. A cessation of the recent pattern of increasing ages at childbearing will at some point put upward pressure on period (but not cohort) fertility rates. Higher relative wages for women and better contraception have empowered women and fundamentally altered marriage and relations between the sexes. But women's childbearing has become less dependent upon stable relations with men, and educational differences in intended fertility have narrowed. One explanation of higher fertility in the U.S. than in other developed countries is that its institutions have adapted better to rising relative wages for women and the attendant increase in women's labor force participation.

How Many Struggle to Get By in Retirement?

by Barbara A. Butrica, Dan Murphy, and Sheila R. Zedlewski
SSA Project # BC07-02
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-27

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The official poverty measure in the United States fails to reflect modern day economic resources and spending needs. The official measure is based only on cash income and does not include in-kind transfers, capital gains and losses, taxes, out-of-pocket health spending, the value of owner-occupied housing, or the potential income from financial assets. Also, the official poverty thresholds that define minimal needs, set back in 1963 and updated to changes in the CPI, do not capture current spending patterns. These shortcomings especially pertain to adults age 65 and older because their resources, needs, and health expenses differ most dramatically from the assumptions reflected in the official measure. This paper uses data from the 2004 Health and Retirement Study to demonstrate how the poverty rate of adults age 65 and older changes using alternative resource and threshold measures. Results show that alternative measures that account for health spending produce higher poverty rates than the official measure, even those that include the value of housing and financial assets. Poverty remains concentrated among singles (disproportionately women), blacks and Hispanics, and adults age 85 and older regardless of how it is measured because these populations have relatively little housing equity or financial assets. Higher alternative poverty rates among older adults show the importance of protecting low-income groups when considering government reforms that include benefit cuts or higher cost shares to improve Social Security and Medicare solvency.

Inflation Bets or Deflation Hedges? The Changing Risks of Nominal Bonds

by John Y. Campbell, Adi Sunderam, and Luis M. Viceira
SSA Project # NB07-12
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 14701

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The covariance between US Treasury bond returns and stock returns has moved considerably over time. While it was slightly positive on average in the period 1953–2005, it was particularly high in the early 1980's and negative in the early 2000's. This paper specifies and estimates a model in which the nominal term structure of interest rates is driven by five state variables: the real interest rate, risk aversion, temporary and permanent components of expected inflation, and the covariance between nominal variables and the real economy. The last of these state variables enables the model to fit the changing covariance of bond and stock returns. Log nominal bond yields and term premia are quadratic in these state variables, with term premia determined mainly by the product of risk aversion and the nominal-real covariance. The concavity of the yield curve—the level of intermediate-term bond yields, relative to the average of short- and long-term bond yields—is a good proxy for the level of term premia. The nominal-real covariance has declined since the early 1980's, driving down term premia.

Is There Still an Added Worker Effect?

by Chinhui Juhn and Simon Potter
SSA Project # NB07-14
National Bureau of Economic Research

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Using matched March CPS files we examine labor market transitions of husbands and wives. We find that the "added worker effect"—the greater propensity of non-participating wives to enter the labor force when their husbands exit employment—is still important among a subset of couples but the overall value of marriage as a risksharing arrangement has diminished due to the greater positive co-movement of employment within couples. While we find that positive assortative matching on education did increase over time, we find that this shift in composition of couple types alone explains little of the increased positive correlation.

The Market Value of Accrued Social Security Benefits

by John Geanakoplous and Stephen P. Zeldes
SSA Project # NB07-18
National Bureau of Economic Research

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One measure of the health of the Social Security system is the difference between the market value of the trust fund and the present value of benefits accrued to date. However, an important question is how one should evaluate or quantify future Social Security liabilities in current value terms. In this study, we develop a market-based approach. Our aim is to estimate a market value of Social Security liabilities, taking account of future risks and uncertainties in a way that investors would do if they regarded Social Security payments as dividends on assets, or liabilities of their own business. We find that the difference between market valuation and SSA's "actuarial" valuation is large, especially when valuing the benefits of younger cohorts. Overall, the market value of accrued benefits is only 3/4 of that implied by the actuarial approach. Ignoring retirees (for whom the valuations are the same), market value is only 2/3 as large as that implied by the actuarial approach. We make the case that market value is the more appropriate way to measure both assets and liabilities of the Social Security system, because it adjusts correctly for the uncertainties of the future, rather than applying a risk-free discount rate.

Social Security Eligibility and the Labor Supply of Elderly Immigrants

by George J. Borjas
SSA Project # NB07-13
National Bureau of Economic Research

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The primary difference in the labor market behavior of older immigrants, as compared with non-immigrants can be expressed in terms of a "crossover" age—which occurs in the late 50s or early 60s. Before the crossover age, natives tend to have higher employment rates than immigrants. After the crossover age, natives have lower employment rates than natives. Put another way, the native employment rate declines at a much faster rate as they approach their late 50's and into their 60s; while immigrant employment rate declines more gradually. This study illustrates how the greater reluctance of immigrants to leave the labor market as they near retirement age arises partly because of the eligibility requirements for Social Security benefits. A person needs to have worked in the United States for at least 10 years to qualify for retirement benefits. Immigrants in their 50s who have not yet accumulated the required employment credits have much greater employment rates than otherwise comparable persons. Once the 10-year work rule is satisfied, the probability that an elderly immigrant receives retirement benefits rises significantly and his probability of employment drops by 7 to 11 percentage points.

Who Values the Social Security Annuity? New Evidence on the Annuity Puzzle

by Jeffrey R. Brown, Marcus D. Casey and Olivia S. Mitchell
SSA Project # NB07-02
National Bureau of Economic Research

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We examine individuals' self-reported willingness to exchange part of their Social Security inflation-indexed annuity benefit for an immediate lump-sum payment, using an experimental module in the 2004 Health and Retirement Study. Our first finding is that nearly three out of five respondents favor the lump-sum payment if it were approximately actuarially fair, a finding that casts doubt on several leading explanations for why more people do not annuitize. Second, there is some modest price sensitivity and evidence consistent with adverse selection; in particular, people in better health and having more optimistic longevity expectations are more likely to choose the annuity. Third, after controlling on education, more financially literate individuals prefer the annuity. Fourth, people anticipating future Social Security benefit reductions are more likely to choose the lump-sum, suggesting that political risk matters. Other factors such as sex, marital status, income, wealth, or the presence of children are not associated with respondents' relative preferences for the annuity versus the lump-sum.

Why Do Individuals Choose Define Contribution Plans?

by Jeffrey R. Brown and Scott J. Weisbenner
SSA Project # NB07-01
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 12842

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This paper provides new evidence on what types of individuals are most likely to choose a defined contribution (DC) plan over a defined benefit (DB) plan. Making use of administrative data from the State Universities Retirement System (SURS) of Illinois, we study the decisions of nearly 50,000 new employees who make a one-time, irrevocable choice between a traditional DB plan, a portable DB plan, and an entirely self-managed DC plan. Because the SURS-covered earnings of these employees are not covered under the Social Security system, their choices provides insight into the DB vs. DC preferences of individuals with regard to a primary source of their retirement income. We find that a majority of participants fail to make an active decision and are thus defaulted into the traditional DB plan after 6 months. We also find that those individuals who are most likely to be financially sophisticated are most likely to choose the self-managed DC plan, despite the fact that, given plan parameters, the DC plan is inferior to the portable DB plan under reasonable assumptions about future financial market returns. We discuss both rational and behavioral reasons that might explain this finding.

October 2007

Are 401(k) Saving Rates Changing? Cohort/Period Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study

by Irena Dushi and Marjorie Honig
SSA Project # UM07-05
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-160

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This research examines the determinants of eligibility and participation in 401(k) plans using two cross-sections of data from the Health and Retirement Study. Our sample consists of workers ages 51–56 representing two cohorts: the original HRS cohort born 1931 41, first interviewed in 1992, and the Early Baby Boomer (EBB) cohort born 1948–53, interviewed in 2004. Participation in 401(k) pensions in the EBB cohort is nearly 50 percent greater than that of the earlier cohort. This substantial growth in 401(k) plan participation over a relatively brief period may reflect intrinsic differences in tastes between the two cohorts, changes over this period in the external environment regarding retirement saving, or the joint effects of both influences.

Burnout and the Retirement Decision

by Nicole Maestas and Xiaoyan Li
SSA Project # UM07-03
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-166

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We introduce the process of psychological burnout and recovery as an explanation for the phenomenon known as unretirement. We illustrate theoretically how predictable time variation in burnout could generate retirement and subsequent re-entry in a standard retirement model. We apply this model to the longitudinal Health and Retirement Study, presenting a novel measure of burnout, the Burnout EX3 Index. The index is correlated with different types of work stressors, and its time profile discriminates among different types of retirees. For example, prior to retirement, burnout rises steeply for future unretirees then falls rapidly after retirement; whereas burnout among future partial retirees is low and changes little over time. Using a series of econometric models derived from our theoretical model, we show that as burnout rises, retirement becomes more probable, and as burnout recedes following retirement, re-entry becomes more probable. While access to public and private pension benefits increases the likelihood of retirement for all retirees, pension accruals are least important for those who will later unretire, suggesting that unretirees are more willing to trade future gains in pension wealth for leisure than other retirees. Indeed, for this group, the effect of burnout dominates that of the net return to work.

Capital Income Flows and the Relative Well-Being of America's Aged Population

by Barry P. Bosworth, Gary Burtless, and Sarah E. Anders
SSA Project # BC07-01
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-21

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One way to assess the effectiveness of a nation's pension system is to measure its success in bringing the incomes of the aged close to those enjoyed by the nonaged. The comparability of income estimates for the aged and nonaged depends, however, on the relative accuracy of the income reports for the two populations. Unfortunately, some income items that are particularly important to the elderly, including occupational pensions, income derived from financial assets, and returns on homeowners' net equity in their principal residence, are either unreported or significantly underreported in household surveys. In this paper we assess the effects of unmeasured and underreported income flows on the relative incomes of the aged and near-aged. We use survey data from the March Current Population Survey and the Survey of Consumer Finances. The latter survey contains information on wealth holdings as well as income. Using our broadest definition of income, which includes the return on net equity in an owner-occupied home and the predicted annuity flow from a household's financial assets, the incomes of aged households in the middle of the old-age income distribution appear to be similar to those of nonaged households in the middle of the nonaged income distribution. In the top and bottom one-quarter of the old-age income distribution, incomes under the broadest income definition are substantially higher than those of nonaged households in the equivalent position of the income distribution. This income pattern diverges sharply from the one that would be inferred under the Census Bureau's standard money income definition, which shows that aged households have noticeably lower incomes than the nonaged.

Children and Household Wealth

by John Karl Scholz and Ananth Seshadri
SSA Project # UM07-12
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-158

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This paper examines the effects of children on consumption and wealth. To anchor intuition, we develop implications using a simple permanent income model with no uncertainty and complete markets. But this framework does not come close to matching the distribution of existing wealth. We therefore examine the effects of children using a rich, augmented life-cycle model, and using a life-cycle model with endogenous fertility. We find that children have a large effect on household's net worth and consequently are an important factor in understanding the wealth distribution. The effects of children are much larger than the effects of asset tests associated with cash and near-cash transfers, given earnings realizations and the social security system experienced by households in the original HRS cohort. We also show that fertility and credit constraints interact in ways that significantly affect wealth accumulation.

The Cost of Owning Employer Stocks: Lessons From Taiwan

by Yi-Tsung Lee, Yu-Jane Liu, and Ning Zhu
SSA Project # BC06-S5 • International Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-24

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Using data on all employees at listed companies in Taiwan, we find that the bias toward employer stocks is generic to individual investor decision-making, but not limited to retirement plans. 71 percent of sample employees invest in employer stocks and the employer stocks make up on average 47 percent of employee equity portfolios. The under-diversification resulting from the bias toward employer stocks is highly costly. Holding current portfolio risk constant, employees forego 4.89 percent per annum in raw returns by investing in employer stocks, which represents 39.74 percent of their average 1998 salary income. Our findings have important implications for social security reform and retirement account management.

The Effects of Health Insurance and Self-Insurance on Retirement Behavior

by Eric French and John Bailey Jones
SSA Project # UM07-13
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-170

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This paper provides an empirical analysis of the effect of employer-provided health insurance and Medicare in determining retirement behavior. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, we estimate the first dynamic programming model of retirement that accounts for both saving and uncertain medical expenses. Our results suggest that uncertainty and saving are both important. We find that workers value health insurance well in excess of its actuarial cost, and that access to health insurance has a significant effect on retirement behavior, which is consistent with the empirical evidence. As a result, shifting the Medicare eligibility age to 67 would cause a significant retirement delay?as large as the delay from shifting the Social Security normal retirement age from 65 to 67.

Estimating the Health Effects of Retirement

by John Bound and Timothy A. Waidmann
SSA Project # UM07-08
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-168

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We estimate the magnitude of any direct effect of retirement on health. Since retirement is endogenous to health, it is not possible to estimate this effect by comparing the health of individuals before and after they retire. As an alternative we use institutional features of the pension system in the United Kingdom that are exogenous to the individual to isolate exogenous variation in retirement behavior. Data used will include both vital statistics and survey data that include both "objective" physical measurements and respondent self-reports. We find no evidence of negative health effects of retirement and some evidence that there may be a positive effect, at least for men.

Financial Literacy and Retirement Planning: New Evidence from the Rand American Life Panel

by Annamaria Lusardi and Olivia S. Mitchell
SSA Project # UM07-10
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-157

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The present paper introduces a new dataset, the Rand American Life Panel (ALP), which offers several appealing features for an analysis of financial literacy and retirement planning. It allows us to evaluate financial knowledge during workers' prime earning years when they are making key financial decisions, and it offers detailed financial literacy and retirement planning questions, permitting a finer assessment of respondents' financial literacy than heretofore feasible. We can also compare respondents' self assessed financial knowledge levels with objective measures of financial literacy, and most valuably, we can investigate prior financial training which permits us to identify key causal links. By every measure, and in every sample we examine, financial literacy proves to be a key determinant of retirement planning. We also find that respondent literacy is higher when they were exposed to economics in school and to company-based financial education programs.

Future Beneficiary Expectations of the Returns to Delayed Social Security Benefit Claiming and Choice Behavior

by Jeff Dominitz, Angela Hung, and Arthur van Soest
SSA Project # UM07-01
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-164

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We report on our preliminary findings from an innovative module of survey questions in the RAND American Life Panel designed to measure willingness to delay take-up of Social Security benefits. Among respondents who expect to stop working full time prior to turning age 62, over 60 percent report that they expect to start claiming Social Security benefits after they turn 63—that is, they expect to delay claiming. In contrast, among those who expect to stop full-time work sometime from age 62 to age 70, only about one-quarter expect to delay claiming beyond the retirement age. Another main finding arises from reported probabilities of delayed claiming in hypothetical choice scenarios. These probabilities tend to be quite high relative to previous findings on delayed claiming outcomes. This result is particularly striking for those who are presented with information about the so-called "break-even age" for delayed claiming rather than information about the total amount of benefits that must be foregone during the one year delay.

Health Insurance and the Labor Supply Decisions of Older Workers: Evidence from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

by Melissa A. Boyle and Joanna N. Lahey
SSA Project # BC07-13
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-23

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This paper exploits a major mid-1990s expansion in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care system to provide evidence on two important and interrelated U.S. policy issues: retirement policy and universal health care. Using data from the Current Population Survey, we compare the labor market behavior of older veterans and non-veterans before and after the VA health benefits expansion to test the impact of public health insurance on labor supply. We find that older workers are significantly more likely to stop working or to move from full- to part-time work after receiving access to non-employer based insurance. Older workers are also more likely to leave self-employment, a result inconsistent with "job-lock" effects of employer-based insurance, but consistent with a positive income effect from new access to public insurance. Some relatively disadvantaged subpopulations, however, may increase their labor supply after gaining greater access to public insurance, consistent with complementary positive health effects of health care access for these groups. We conclude that recent reforms expanding public health insurance have affected employment and retirement decisions, meaning that future moves toward universal coverage or expansions of Medicare are likely to have significant labor market effects. To illustrate, we calculate that as much as 10 percent of the difference in retirement rates in the US and Canada may be due to Canada's provision of universal health care.

Housing Wealth and Retirement Timing

by Martin Farnham and Pervi Sevak
SSA Project # UM07-20
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-172

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We use data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and the Office of Housing Enterprise Oversight to measure the effect of changes in housing wealth on retirement timing. Using cross-MSA variation in house-price movements to identify wealth effects on retirement timing, we find evidence that such wealth effects are present. According to some specifications the rate of transition into retirement increases in the presence of positive housing wealth shocks. In addition, we use data on expected age of retirement to measure the impact of housing wealth shocks on expectations about retirement timing. Using renters as a control for heterogeneity in local amenities and using individual fixed effects to control for unobserved individual heterogeneity, we find that a 10 percent increase in housing wealth is associated with a reduction in expected retirement age of between 3.5 and 5 months.

How do Immigrants Fare in Retirement?

by Pervi Sevak and Lucie Schmidt
SSA Project # UM07-09
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-169

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Existing literature suggests that immigrants receive lower wages than U.S.-born workers with similar characteristics. This could imply that immigrant households would enter retirement at a significant financial disadvantage. In this paper, we examine the retirement resources available to immigrant families by examining Social Security benefits, pension coverage, and private wealth accumulation. Our results suggest that although immigrant families may be financially better-off in the U.S. than in their native countries, they do enter retirement at a significant financial disadvantage relative to native born households with similar characteristics.

The Impact of Late-Career Health and Employment Shocks on Social Security and Other Wealth

by Richard W. Johnson, Gordon B.T. Mermin, and Dan Murphy
SSA Project # BC07-12
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-26

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Although health and employment shocks are fairly common at older ages and often derail retirement savings plans, Social Security's disability insurance, spouse and survivor benefits, and progressive benefit formula may provide important protections. By contrast, traditional employer-sponsored pension benefits may be especially vulnerable to health and employment shocks immediately before benefit take-up, because pension wealth generally grows rapidly near the end of the career and workers forfeit these increases if they separate early. This study examines the impact of disability onset and job layoffs on Social Security wealth, traditional employer-sponsored pension wealth, and other household wealth for a nationally representative sample of workers age 51 to 55 in 1992. One-quarter of workers in the sample develop health-related work limitations before age 62 and just more than one-fifth are laid off from their jobs. Regression results show that job layoffs significantly reduce Social Security wealth accumulation, but health shocks increase Social Security wealth, primarily because the system's disability insurance allows some disabled workers to collect benefits before age 62. If Social Security's disability insurance program did not exist, the onset of health-related work limitations would reduce Social Security wealth growth between 1992 and 2004 by about $3,800, equal to about 12 percent of the average growth over the period. If spouse and survivor benefits and the progressive benefit formula were also eliminated, the negative impact of health shocks would jump to about $7,900, equal to about 19 percent of the average wealth change.

The Impact of Private Participation on Disability Costs: Evidence from Chile

by Estelle James, Alejandra Cox Edwards, and Augusto Iglesias Palau
SSA Project # UM07-14 • International Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-161

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Social security systems in many countries face problems of high and escalating disability costs. This paper analyzes how disability costs have been controlled in Chile. The disability insurance system in Chile is much less well-known than the pension part, but it is equally innovative. It differs from traditional public disability insurance in two important ways: 1) it is largely pre-funded, sufficient to cover a lifetime disability annuity and 2) the disability assessment procedure includes participation by private pension funds (AFPs) and insurance companies, who finance the benefit and have a direct pecuniary interest in controlling costs. We hypothesize that these procedures and incentives will keep system costs low, by cutting the incidence of successful disability claims. Using the Cox proportional hazard model based on a retrospective sample of new and old system affiliates (ESP 2002), we conclude that observed behavior is broadly consistent with this hypothesis. Disability hazard rates are only 20–35 percent as high in the new system as in the old, after controlling for other co-variates. Furthermore, analysis of mortality rates among disabled pensioners (using probit and proportional hazard models) suggests that the new system has accurately targeted those with more severe medical problems.

Life-Cycle Models: Lifetime Earnings and the Timing of Retirement

by John P. Laitner and Daniel Silverman
SSA Project # UM07-16
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-165

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After dropping for a century, the average retirement age for U.S. males seems to have leveled off in recent decades. An important question is whether as future improvements in technology cause wages to rise, desired retirement ages will resume their downward trend, or not. This paper attempts to use HRS panel data to test how relatively high (or low) earnings affect male retirement ages. Our goal is to use cross?sectional earning differences to help anticipate likely time?series developments in coming decades. Our preliminary regression results show that higher earnings do lead to somewhat earlier retirement. Unless additional analysis changes the parameter estimates, the implication is that the downward trend in male retirement ages will ultimately return.

A Longitudinal Analysis of Entries and Exits of the Low-Income Elderly to and from the Supplemental Security Income Program

by Elizabeth Powers and Todd Elder
SSA Project # UM07-02
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-156

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This paper is the first to analyze eligibility and participation spells and estimate dynamic models of SSI participation by the aged. We first describe eligibility and participation spells and estimate competing-risk models of the determinants of transitions. Next, we present evidence of extensive measurement error in the expected SSI benefit and the associated imputed eligibility status of sample members. We compare and contrast two approaches to ameliorating this error. A cross-section approach exploits self-reports of participants' benefits, and a longitudinal approach makes inferences from time variation in the computed benefit. We find that the hazard model estimates vary little with regard to whether or which particular measurement error correction is employed. Finally, the longitudinal patterns of eligibility and participation suggest that take-up rates among the persistently eligible are nearly 80 percent.

Managing the Risk of Life

by Adeline Delavande and Robert J. Willis
SSA Project # UM07-04
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-167

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This study analyzes the role of individual's and spouse's survival expectations and knowledge about Social Security rules on the expected Social Security claiming age, taking into account the various incentives single and married individuals face. There is substantial heterogeneity in the level of knowledge about SS rules according to demographic characteristics. We find that single men and women who expect to be longlived plan on delaying Social Security claiming. When we allow for differential effects of survival on knowledge about Social Security rules, subjective survivals matter only for single women who are knowledgeable. For single men, knowledge is not so important in their decisions. The claiming decision of married individuals is more complicated, because they are entitled to spouse's and survivor's benefits. Consistent with the incentives provided by Social Security rules, we find that married men base their expected claiming age on their spouse's survival expectations but not on their own survival. For married women, both own and spouse's subjective survivals positively influence the timing of claiming. Knowledge about Social Security rules affects the expected claiming age of both married men and women.

Measurement Error in Earnings Data in the Health and Retirement Study

by Jesse Bricker and Gary V. Engelhardt
SSA Project # BC07-05
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-16

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We provide new evidence on the extent of measurement error in respondent-reported earnings data by exploiting detailed W-2 records matched to older workers in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). Our empirical findings are qualitatively consistent with the findings of previous studies. Mean measurement error in the 1991 HRS earnings data for men is somewhat larger than what has been found in other validation studies, but is still modest, averaging about 0.059 log points, approximately 5.9 percent, or $1,500. For women in 1991, it is 0.067 log points, approximately 6.7 percent, or $916. We find a negative correlation between the measurement error and the true value of earnings as measured by the W-2 records, which indicates the presence of non-classical measurement error. For men and women, this error shows little correlation with a standard set of crosssectional earnings determinants. The one exception is that the measurement error rises with reported education. The bias on the OLS parameter estimate of the impact of having a college degree or higher (relative to a high school drop-out) from using the respondentreported rather than the W-2 earnings is positive and estimated to be 0.071 log points, or roughly a bias of 7 percent.

Money in Motion: Dynamic Portfolio Choice in Retirement

by Wolfram J. Horneff, Raimond H. Maurer, Olivia S. Mitchell, and Michael Z. Stamos
SSA Project # UM07-17
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-152

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Retirees confront the difficult problem of how to manage their money in retirement so as to not outlive their funds while continuing to invest in capital markets. We posit a dynamic utility maximizer who makes both asset location and allocation decisions when managing her retirement financial wealth and annuities, and we prove that she can benefit from both the equity premium and longevity insurance in her retirement portfolio. Even without bequests, she will not fully annuitize; rather, her optimal stock allocation amounts initially to more than half of her financial wealth and declines with age. Welfare gains from this strategy can amount to 40 percent of financial wealth (depending on risk parameters and other resources). In practice, it turns out that many retirees will do almost as well by purchasing a variable annuity invested 60/40 in stocks/bonds.

A New Approach to Raising Social Security's Earliest Eligibility Age

by Kelly Haverstick, Margarita Sapozhnikov, Robert Triest, and Natalia Zhivan
SSA Project # BC07-14
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-19

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While Social Security's Normal Retirement Age (NRA) is increasing to 67, the Earliest Eligibility Age (EEA) remains at 62. Similar plans to increase the EEA raise concerns that they would create excessive hardship on workers that are worn-out or in bad health. One simple rule to increase the EEA is to tie an increase to the number of quarters of covered earnings. Such a provision would allow those with long worklives—presumably the less educated and lower paid—to quit earlier. We provide evidence that this simple rule would not satisfy the goal of preventing undue hardship on certain workers. Thus, this paper considers an alternative policy that ties an increase in the EEA to individuals' Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME). We show that allowing workers with low AIME to continue to be eligible to receive benefits at age 62 has promise as a policy to protect workers who have low earnings and are in poor health from hardship associated with an increase in the EEA.

Subjective Survival Probabilities in the Health and Retirement Study: Systematic Biases and Predictive Validity

by Todd Elder
SSA Project # UM07-19
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-159

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Recent research has demonstrated that retirement planning and well-being are closely tied to probabilistic forecasts about future events. Using longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study, I show that individuals' subjective survival forecasts exhibit systematic biases relative to life table data. In particular, many respondents fail to account for increases in yearly mortality rates with age, both longitudinally and in crosssection. Additionally, successive cohorts of the near elderly do not appear to revise survival forecasts to match increases in longevity. Forecasting bias may merely be due to the framing of questions designed to elicit expectations, but real biases may result in suboptimal savings rates and timing of retirement. Cross-sectional variation in subjective survival forecasts also appears to reflect differences in cognitive ability across respondents, suggesting that subjective information is more relevant for some individuals than others. Despite these shortcomings, subjective mortality probabilities predict actual mortality and portfolio choice, and they contain information not found in self-reported health status or objective measures of health limitations.

Take-Up of Medicare Part D and the SSA Subsidy: Early Results from the Health and Retirement Study

by Helen Levy and David Weir
SSA Project # UM07-06
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-163

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We analyze newly available data from the Health and Retirement Study on senior citizens' take-up of Medicare Part D and the associated SSA Low-Income Subsidy. We find that economic factors—specifically, demand for prescription drugs—drove the decision to enroll in Part D. For the most part, individuals with employer-sponsored coverage in 2004 kept that coverage, as they should have. Individuals with no prescription drug coverage in 2004 mostly enrolled in Part D or obtained other coverage; many of those who remained without coverage reported that they do not use prescribed medicines. Take-up of the SSA "Extra Help" subsidy seems to have been more problematic, with many Part D beneficiaries unaware of the subsidy program or unsure about their eligibility. There is apparent under-reporting in the HRS of participation in the subsidy program, suggesting that some who profess to be unaware of the program may actually be participating in it. In terms of respondents' subjective experiences of decision-making, the majority report having had little or no difficulty with the Part D enrollment decision and being confident that they made the right decision. Thus, for the most part, despite the complexity of the program, Medicare beneficiaries seem to have been able to make economically rational decisions in which they had confidence, although additional intervention for low income beneficiaries may be desirable.

Trends in the Labor Force Participation of Married Women

by Christopher House, John P. Laitner, and Dmitriy Stolyarov
SSA Project # UM07-15
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-171

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This study seeks to quantify determinants, and costs, of the labor?force participation of married women. We use demographic and earnings data from the Health and Retirement Study. The earnings data constitute an unusually long panel but have the defect of lacking corresponding reports on work hours. By using a highly structured model and concentrating on the participation margin, we nevertheless feel that we can make substantial progress. Our preliminary regression results imply that married women's market work disrupts their household consumption slightly less than one half as much as men's work (relative to complete household retirement). We lay out a course of additional steps that can, we believe, clarify these results even more precisely in the near future.

What Makes Retirees Happier: A Gradual or 'Cold Turkey' Retirement?

by Esteban Calvo, Kelly Haverstick, and Steven A. Sass
SSA Project # BC07-16
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-18

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This study explores the factors that affect an individual's happiness while transitioning into retirement. Recent studies highlight gradual retirement as an attractive option to older workers as they approach full retirement. However, it is not clear whether phasing or cold turkey makes for a happier retirement. Using longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study, this study explores what shapes the change in happiness between the last wave of full employment and the first wave of full retirement. Results suggest that what really matters is not the type of transition (gradual retirement or cold turkey), but whether people perceive the transition as chosen or forced.

Why Are Companies Freezing Their Pensions?

by Alicia H. Munnell and Mauricio Soto
SSA Project # BC07-17
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-22

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Defined benefit plans in the private sector are on the decline. And the early 21st century produced an uptick in the pace of decline driven by the financially devastating impact of the "perfect storm" of plummeting stock prices and low interest rates, legislation that will require underfunded plans to increase their contributions, and accounting changes that will force fluctuations in pension finance onto the earnings statement and will likely eliminate the smoothing available under current rules. Increased volatility is not acceptable to corporate managers and may, in large part, explain why large healthy companies have taken steps to end their defined benefit plans. In an attempt to identify factors that led specific companies to freeze their plans, this paper explores the relationship between the probability that a plan was frozen and characteristics of the plan, the firm, and the industry. The results imply that plans where credit balances are high relative to income, legacy costs are substantial and funding ratios are low have a higher probability of being frozen. That makes sense in that plans with these characteristics are likely to have the most impact on future earnings under the Financial Accounting Standards Board's expected reporting requirements. It is reasonable to expect more plans with these characteristics to freeze in the future.

Why Do Married Men Claim Social Security Benefits So Early? Ignorance or Caddishness?

by Steven Sass, Wei Sun, and Anthony Webb
SSA Project # BC07-06
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-17

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Most married men claim Social Security benefits at age 62 or 63, well short of both Social Security's Full Retirement Age and the age that maximizes the household's expected present value of benefits (EPVB). This results in a loss of less than 4 percent in household EPBV. But essentially the entire loss is born by the survivor benefit, falls nearly 20 percent. As many elderly widows have very low incomes, early claiming by married men is a major social problem. Regression results found no association between early claiming and caddishness or the ability of husbands to make claiming decisions independently. The one statistically significant finding is the association of college education and later claiming, which cautiously take to indicate greater financial awareness. This suggests that an effective educational campaign might be able to raise the claiming ages of married men and improve widows' retirement income security. But financial education has not been especially effective in changing behavior. Policymakers should thus consider other initiatives to assure a survivor benefit greater than that produced by an age 62 or 63 husbands' claiming age. Such initiatives include raising the Earliest Eligibility Age, requiring spousal consent for claiming prior to the Full Retirement Age, and preserving the survivor benefit at its Full Retirement Age value and allowing the higher-earning spouse to access only a portion of his (or her) Primary Insured Amount prior to the Full Retirement Age.

September 2007

The Effect of Retirement Incentives on Retirement Behavior: Evidence from the Self-Employed in the United States and England

by Julie Zissimopoulos, Nicole Maestas, and Lynn Karoly
SSA Project # UM07-18
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-155

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In this paper, we examine how public and private pension and health insurance systems affect the retirement transitions. In many countries, public and private pension eligibility, as well as access to health insurance varies between self-employed and wage and salary workers, and these differences are likely to cause differential retirement patterns both within and across countries. We use the variation in these institutional features within and across the United States and England to analyze retirement patterns. Based on longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) in the United States and the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing (ELSA) we find that the higher labor force exit rate of wage and salary workers compared to self-employed workers is due to defined benefit pension incentives created by the public and private pension systems. Higher rates of labor force exit at ages 55 and older in England compared to the United States are due in part to the availability of publicly provided health insurance.

Evaluating the Advanced Life Deferred Annuity—An Annuity People Might Actually Buy

by Guan Gong and Anthony Webb
SSA Project # BC07-04
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-15

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Although annuities provide longevity insurance that should, in theory, be attractive to risk-averse households facing an uncertain lifespan, rates of voluntary annuitization remain extremely low. We evaluate a proposed annuity product, the Advanced Life Deferred Annuity, an annuity purchased at retirement, providing an income commencing in advanced old age. Using numerical optimization techniques, we show that this product would provide a substantial proportion of the longevity insurance provided by an immediate annuity, at a small fraction of the cost. At plausible levels of actuarial unfairness, households should prefer it to both immediate and postponed annuitization, and an optimal decumulation of unannuitized wealth. We show that few households would suffer significant losses were it used as a 401(k) plan default.

August 2007

The Impact of Employer Matching on Savings Plan Participation under Automatic Enrollment

by John Beshears, James J. Choi, David Laibson, and Brigitte C. Madrian
SSA Project # NB07-09
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 13352

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Existing research has documented the large impact that automatic enrollment has on savings plan participation. All the companies examined in these studies, however, have combined automatic enrollment with an employer match. This raises a question about how effective automatic enrollment would be without a direct financial inducement not to opt out of participation. This paper's results suggest that the match has only a modest impact on opt-out rates. We estimate that moving from a typical matching structure—a match of 50 percent up to 6 percent of pay contributed—to no match would reduce participation under automatic enrollment at 6 months after plan eligibility by 5 to 11 percentage points. Our analysis includes a firm that switched from a match to a non-contingent employer contribution. This firm's experience suggests that non-contingent employer contributions only weakly crowd out employee participation.

Social Security and the Timing of Divorce

by Gopi Shah Goda, John B. Shoven, and Sita Nataraj Slavov
SSA Project # NB07-10
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 13382

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Social Security provides spousal benefits in retirement to secondary workers in married couples based on the primary worker's earnings record. In addition, Social Security pays spousal benefits to divorced secondary workers whose marriages lasted at least ten years. However, if a marriage failed in less than ten years, no spousal benefits are paid. The spousal benefit is particularly valuable to secondary workers in couples where there is a large disparity in earnings between the primary worker and the secondary worker. We examine whether these couples, who have more to gain from extending their marriage to ten years, are more likely to delay divorce to the tenth year relative to a control group. We find that vulnerable couples are slightly more likely to delay divorce from year nine to year ten; however, the effect is statistically insignificant and small in magnitude. While the "cliff"-vesting of retirement benefits for divorced spouses raises equity concerns, it does not appear to distort incentives for divorce.

A Tax on Work for the Elderly: Medicare as a Secondary Payer

by Gopi Shah Goda, John B. Shoven, and Sita Nataraj Slavov
SSA Project # NB07-11
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 13383

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Medicare as a Secondary Payer (MSP) legislation requires employer-sponsored health insurance to be a primary payer for Medicare-eligible workers at firms with 20 or more employees. While the legislation was developed to better target Medicare services to individuals without access to employer-sponsored insurance, MSP creates a significant implicit tax on working beyond age 65. This implicit tax is approximately 15–20 percent at age 65 and increases to 45–70 percent by age 80. Eliminating this implicit tax by making Medicare a primary payer for all Medicare-eligible individuals could significantly increase lifetime labor supply due to the high labor supply elasticities of older workers. The extra income tax receipts from such a policy would likely offset a large percentage of the estimated costs of making Medicare a primary payer.

The Welfare Cost of Asymmetric Information: Evidence from the U.K. Annuity Market

by Liran Einav, Amy Finkelstein, and Paul Schrimpf
SSA Project # NB07-16 • International Research
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 13228

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Much of the extensive empirical literature on insurance markets has focused on whether adverse selection can be detected. Once detected, however, there has been little attempt to quantify its importance. We start by showing theoretically that the efficiency cost of adverse selection cannot be inferred from reduced form evidence of how "adversely selected" an insurance market appears to be. Instead, an explicit model of insurance contract choice is required. We develop and estimate such a model in the context of the U.K. annuity market. The model allows for private information about risk type (mortality) as well as heterogeneity in preferences over different contract options. We focus on the choice of length of guarantee among individuals who are required to buy annuities. The results suggest that asymmetric information along the guarantee margin reduces welfare relative to a first-best, symmetric information benchmark by about £127 million per year, or about 2 percent of annual premiums. We also find that government mandates, the canonical solution to adverse selection problems, do not necessarily improve on the asymmetric information equilibrium. Depending on the contract mandated, mandates could reduce welfare by as much as £107 million annually, or increase it by as much as £127 million. Since determining which mandates would be welfare improving is empirically difficult, our findings suggest that achieving welfare gains through mandatory social insurance may be harder in practice than simple theory may suggest.

July 2007

The Role of Governance in Retirement Investments: Evidence from Variable Annuities

by Richard Evans and Rüdiger Fahlenbrach
SSA Project # BC06-S1
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-20

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We study the relative importance of market governance and non-market governance in retirement investments using a sample of variable annuities. Variable annuity investors are significantly less sensitive to performance and fees than mutual fund investors. Consistent with a complementary role of market and non-market governance, other governance mechanisms play a stronger role for variable annuity funds. Variable annuity sponsors add alternative investment options and replace advisors on behalf of their investors after poor performance and high fees. These other governance mechanisms are ineffective, however, whenever conflicts of interest exist between variable annuity sponsors and fund advisors.

June 2007

Winners and Losers: 401(k) Trading and Portfolio Performance

by Takeshi Yamaguchi, Olivia S. Mitchell, Gary R. Mottola, and Stephen P. Utkus
SSA Project # UM07-11
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-154

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Few previous studies have explored how individuals manage their defined contribution (DC) pension plan assets, even though such plans constitute an increasingly important component of retirement wealth. Using a unique new dataset on over one million active 401(k) plan participants in a wide range of plans, we assess the impact of trading on investment performance in DC plans. We find that, in aggregate, the risk-adjusted returns of traders are no different than those of nontraders. Yet certain types of trading such as periodic rebalancing are beneficial, while high-turnover trading is costly. Interestingly, those who hold only balanced or lifecycle funds, whom we call passive rebalancers, earn the highest risk-adjusted returns. These findings should interest fiduciaries responsible for designing DC pensions and regulators of the retirement saving environment.

April 2007

Demographic Influences on Saving-Investment Balances in Developing and Developed Economies

by Ralph C. Bryant
SSA Project # BC06-16
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-8

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This paper studies demographic differences between lower-income, less developed countries (the "South") and higher-income developed countries (the "North"). It analyzes the implications of heterogeneous demographic evolutions for aggregate saving-investment imbalances, exchange rates, and the resulting net capital flows between North and South. An optimistic perspective suggests that the North can run a current-account surplus sizable in relation to the Northern economy, thereby transferring large net amounts of financial capital to the South. This paper argues that an optimistic perspective is a plausible characterization of demographic influences on North-South capital flows in the historical period between 1950 and the mid-1970s. For historical decades after the 1970s and for the initial decades of the 21st century, however, a less optimistic perspective is appropriate. Demographic forces considered by themselves are likely to diminish rather than augment the flow of Northern saving to the South as a fraction of the Southern economy. The fundamental causes of these effects are shifts in relative demographics between the South and the North. The qualitative conclusion holds regardless of whether the demographic transition in Southern economies is somewhat faster and sooner or somewhat slower and delayed, regardless of whether growth in Southern total factor productivity is vigorous or weak, and regardless of whether cross-border goods substitutability is modest or strong. Public policy concerned with demographic trends in higher-income Northern nations should recognize that demographic asymmetries with lower-income Southern economies are unlikely, by themselves, to ease resolution of Northern macroeconomic difficulties caused by population aging.

Is the US Population Behaving Healthier?

by David M. Cutler, Edward L. Glaeser, and Allison B. Rosen
SSA Project # NB06-13
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 13013

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In the past few decades, some measures of population risk have improved, while others have deteriorated. Understanding the health of the population requires integrating these different trends. We compare the risk factor profile of the population in the early 1970s with that of the population in the early 2000s and consider the impact of a continuation of recent trends. Despite substantial increases in obesity in the past three decades, the overall population risk profile is healthier now than it was formerly. For the population aged 25–74, the 10-year probability of death fell from 9.8 percent in 1971–75 to 8.4 percent in 1999–2002. Among the population aged 55–74, the 10-year risk of death fell from 25.7 percent to 21.7 percent. The largest contributors to these changes were the reduction in smoking and better control of blood pressure. Increased obesity increased risk, but not by as large a quantitative amount. In the future, however, increased obesity may play a larger role than continued reductions in smoking. We estimate that a continuation of trends over the past three decades to the next three decades might offset about a third of the behavioral improvements witnessed in recent years.

Literacy, Trust and 401(k) Savings Behavior

by Julie R. Agnew, Lisa Szykman, Stephen P. Utkus, and Jean A. Young
SSA Project # BC06-12
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-10

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At three large firms offering 401(k) plans, we assess the impact of financial literacy and trust on 401(k) savings behavior in voluntary and automatic enrollment 401(k) plans. Financial literacy plays a critical role in improving 401(k) savings behavior—it reduces both the proportion of non-joiners in voluntary 401(k) plans and the proportion of quitters in automatic enrollment plans. Trust is critical as well in improving quit rates in automatic enrollment plans. Both financial literacy and trust appear to have more sizeable marginal effects than do those from income. We also find no initial evidence that non-participants are low-income rational agents who fail to participate in a 401(k) plan due to anticipated income support from Social Security. Our findings underscore the importance of ongoing workplace education for both voluntary and automatic enrollment plans and highlight the unique issue of trust in automatic enrollment plans.

March 2007

The Rise of 401(k) Plans, Lifetime Earnings, and Wealth at Retirement

by James Poterba, Steven F. Venti, and David A. Wise
SSA Project # NB06-04
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 13091

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Saving through private pensions has been an important complement to Social Security in providing for the financial needs of older Americans. In the past twenty five years, however, there has been a dramatic change in private retirement saving. Personal retirement accounts have replaced defined benefit pension plans as the primary means of retirement saving. It is important to understand how this change will affect the wealth of future retirees. The personal retirement account system is not yet mature. A person who retired in 2000, for example, could have contributed to a 401(k) for at most 18 years and the typical 401(k) participant had only contributed for a little over seven years. Nonetheless, current 401(k) assets are quite large. We consider in this paper the implications of rising 401(k) saving through the year 2040. In particular, we emphasize the growth of the sum of Social Security wealth and 401(k) assets for families in each decile of the Social Security wealth distribution. Our projections show a substantial increase between 2000 and 2040 in the sum of these retirement assets in each wealth decile. We also consider the accumulation of 401(k) assets by families in different deciles of the distribution of lifetime earnings.

February 2007

Annuitized Wealth and Consumption at Older Ages

by Barbara A. Butrica and Gordon B.T. Mermin
SSA Project # BC06-02
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2006-26

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The growing popularity of Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and defined contribution (DC) pension plans, which generally provide benefits in the form of lump sum payments instead of annuities, is likely to affect spending patterns at older ages. People who enter retirement with little of their wealth annuitized run the risk of spending too quickly and depleting their assets before they die. Or they might spend too slowly, out of fear of running out of money, and not enjoy as comfortable a retirement as they could afford. This study uses data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), including a recent supplemental expenditure survey, to examine how household expenditures among adults ages 65 and older vary by the degree of annuitization—where annuities include Social Security benefits, pensions and private annuity contracts, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Results indicate that typical older married adults hold 55 percent of their retirement wealth in annuitized assets, and unmarried adults have 59 percent of their wealth annuitized. Older adults with little annuitized wealth spend more, even controlling for demographics, income, and wealth. If all defined benefit pensions (DB) were converted into unannuitized DC retirement accounts, discretionary spending could increase by as much as 3 percent for married adults and 11 percent for unmarried adults. By comparison, if Social Security was completely privatized, and retirees did not annuitize, discretionary spending could increase by as much as 22 percent for married adults and 38 percent for unmarried adults.

Demographic Change, Relative Factor Prices, International Capital Flows, and Their Differential Effects on the Welfare of Generations

by Alexander Ludwig, Dirk Krueger, and Axel H. Boersch-Supan
SSA Project # NB06-11
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 13185

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Demographic change has differential impacts on the welfare of current and future generations. In a simple closed economy, aging—a relative scarcity of young workers—increases wages, increasing the welfare of the young. At the same time, population aging will reduce rates of return to capital, thereby reducing the welfare of asset holders who are usually older than the population average. In a global world with pension systems, however, these effects are less straightforward, since international capital flows dampen the factor price changes. Moreover, pay-as-you-go pension systems financed by payroll taxes create a wedge between net and gross wages, and their intergenerational redistribution has important additional effects on the welfare of generations. To quantify these effects, we develop a large-scale multi-country overlapping generations model with uninsurable labor productivity and mortality risk. Due to the predicted relative abundance of the factor capital, the rate of return falls between 2005 and 2050 by roughly 90 basis points. Our simulations indicate that capital flows from rapidly ageing regions to the rest of the world will initially be substantial, but that trends are reversed when households de-cumulate savings. In terms of welfare, our model suggests that young individuals with little assets and currently low labor productivity indeed gain from higher wages associated with population aging. Older, asset-rich households tend to loose because of the predicted decline in real returns to capital.

How Economic Security Changes During Retirement

by Barbara A. Butrica
SSA Project # BC06-10
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-6

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Most studies of retirement well-being have focused on outcomes for relatively young retirees. Few studies have considered how retirement security changes as older Americans age. Following older adults from age 67 (when most have stopped working) to age 80, this study uses projections of wealth and income to assess how their economic security changes during retirement. Results indicate that typical older adults experience a decline in retirement wealth and income between ages 67 and 80. More than two-fifths of retirees will have significantly less income at age 80 than they did at age 67, with the median decline in income being $16,000 for current retirees and $23,000 for boomers. Some older adults, however, will be better off later in retirement. Approximately two-fifths of retirees will have significantly more income at age 80 than they did at age 67, with the median increase in income being $14,000 for current retirees and $17,000 for boomers. At least some of the change in economic well-being during retirement is related to changes in marital status, health status, living arrangements, and work status.

International Investment for Retirement Savers: Historical Evidence on Risk and Returns

by Gary Burtless
SSA Project # BC06-09 • International Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-5

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An important decision facing retirement savers is how to allocate their savings across different assets. The decision includes the choice of how to divide investments between domestic and foreign holdings. This study uses return data for 1927–2005 to determine whether cross-border investing in the past would have been advantageous to retirement savers in eight large industrialized countries. By assumption investors can buy mutual fund shares in index funds for stocks and bonds in their home country and in any of seven foreign countries. The mutual funds' foreign holdings are not hedged to protect investors against currency fluctuations. The paper's goal is to determine whether workers in the eight countries would have obtained higher expected retirement incomes, with smaller risk of catastrophic investment shortfalls, if they invested part of their retirement savings in foreign stocks and bonds. Consistent with past theoretical and empirical findings, the results show that workers could have improved expected financial performance by investing in foreign as well as domestic equities. Remarkably, retirement savers in nearly all countries would have obtained higher average pensions with a 100 percent foreign allocation than with a 100 percent domestic allocation, even if they followed extremely naïve strategies in allocating equity investments across different foreign markets. For retirement savers in most countries, though not the United States, naïve overseas investment strategies would also have reduced the risk of catastrophically poor investment performance. In all countries, retirement savers who selected a global portfolio allocation along the efficient frontier could obtain better average pensions with lower risk of very small pensions than savers who restrict their investments to the domestic stock and bond funds.

January 2007

Enhancing the Quality of Data on the Measurement of Income and Wealth

by Honggao Cao, Mick Couper, Daniel Hill, Michael Hurd, F. Thomas Juster, Joseph Lupton, Michael Perry, and James Smith
SSA Project # UM06-01
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-151

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Over the last decade or so, a substantial effort has gone into the design of a series of methodological investigations aimed at enhancing the quality of survey data on income and wealth. These investigations have largely been conducted at the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan, and have mainly involved two longitudinal surveys: the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), with a first wave beginning in 1992 and continued thereafter every other year through 2004; and the Assets and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old (AHEAD) Study, begun in 1993 and continued in 1995 and 1998, then in every other year through 2006. This paper provides an overview of the main studies and summarizes what has been learned so far. The studies include; a paper by Juster and Smith (Improving the Quality of Economic Data: Lessons from the HRS and AHEAD, JASA, 1997); a paper by Juster, Cao, Perry and Couper (The Effect of Unfolding Brackets on the Quality of Wealth Data in HRS, MRRC Working Paper, WP 2006-113, January 2006); a paper by Hurd, Juster and Smith (Enhancing the Quality of Data on Income: Recent Innovations from the HRS, Journal of Human Resources, Summer 2003); a paper by Juster, Lupton and Cao (Ensuring Time-Series Consistency in Estimates of Income and Wealth, MRRC Working Paper, WP 2002-030, July 2002); a paper by Cao and Juster (Correcting Second-Home Equity in HRS/AHEAD: MRRC Working Paper WP 2004-081, June 2004); and a paper by Rohwedder, Haider and Hurd (RAND Working Paper, 2004).

Job Changes at Older Ages: Effects on Wages, Benefits, and Other Job Attributes

by Richard W. Johnson and Janette Kawachi
SSA Project # BC06-07
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-4

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One potential way to manage the rapidly growing costs of supporting older Americans is to increase labor supply at older ages. However, questions persist about the quality of available jobs. This study examines older Americans' employment opportunities by studying job changes at older ages. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, it compares wages, benefits, and other job attributes on new and former jobs for adults ages 45 to 75 who changed employers between 1986 and 2004. Because older people who choose to work after retiring voluntarily from long-term jobs may face different employment prospects than displaced older workers, the analysis considers how employment changes vary by the reasons workers give for job separations. Most people who switched employers at older ages moved to jobs that differed substantially from their previous jobs. The vast majority of older job changers moved into different occupations and industries. They were more likely to be self-employed, work part-time, and keep flexible hours at their new jobs than their old jobs. The new jobs generally involved less stress, less physical effort, and fewer managerial responsibilities. More older job changers enjoyed their new jobs than their old jobs. However, most older workers experienced sharp hourly wage reductions when they switched employers. They were also less likely to receive pension coverage or health benefits after they moved to new jobs. Although the findings do not raise concerns about the quality of post-retirement jobs, they suggest that older displaced workers face special challenges in the labor market.

Labor Market Status and Transitions During the Pre-Retirement Years: Learning from International Differences

by Arie Kapteyn, James P. Smith, Arthur van Soest, and James Banks
SSA Project # UM06-22
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-149

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Many western industrialized countries face strong budgetary pressures due to the aging of the baby boom generations and the general trends toward earlier ages of retirement. The commonality of these problems has the advantage of offering an empirical laboratory for the testing of programmatic incentives on labor force participation and retirement decisions that would not be possible in a single country where programs typically only change very slowly. One can gauge the effect of policies by analyzing the differences in the prevalence of unemployment, early retirement or work disability across countries. We use the American PSID and the European Community Household Panel (ECHP) to explain differences in prevalence and dynamics of self-reported work disability and labor force status. To that end we specify a two-equations dynamic panel data model describing the dynamics of labor force status and self-reported work disability. We find that transitions between work and non-work are more frequent in the US than in the 13 European countries we analyze. For self-reported work disability we don't observe similar differences in transition rates between disability states, although overall Americans are less likely to report work disabilities. The difference in outflow out of work between the US and Europe appears to be smaller than the difference in inflow into work. When we apply the US parameters of the flow from non-work to work, the net result is that Europeans tend to work more.

The Responsiveness of Private Savings to Medicaid Long Term Care Policies

by Purvi Sevak and Lina Walker
SSA Project # UM06-18
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2007-150

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This paper examines the extent to which private savings responds to the availability of a social insurance program. We focus on the Medicaid nursing home assistance program and uses variation in state Medicaid policies in the 1960s and 1990s to identify whether household wealth correlates negatively with access to public insurance coverage. We use data from the 1962 and 1970 Survey of Consumer Finances and the 1992 through 2002 Health and Retirement Study. We find that household savings in 1970 was substantially lower in states with easier access to Medicaid assistance and that household savings in the 1990s was lower when access to the Medicaid program was lower.

Social Security Spouse and Survivor Benefits for the Modern Family

by Melissa M. Favreault and C. Eugene Steuerle
SSA Project # BC06-11
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-7

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Our project uses DYNASIM3, the Urban Institute's dynamic microsimulation model of the U.S. population, to simulate several alternative systems of Social Security auxiliary benefits. We specifically consider earnings sharing, a system in which a husband's and a wife's earnings records are combined and averaged over the duration of their marriage when computing Social Security benefits. We also consider whether other changes to Social Security's benefit computations—like caregiver credits, minimum benefits, and more modest changes to spouse/survivor benefits—could improve program adequacy and horizontal equity with less complexity and fewer transition difficulties relative to earnings sharing. Each proposal we examine substitutes existing spouse (and, sometimes, all or parts of survivor) benefits with mechanisms that explicitly acknowledge marital partnerships, are more neutral with respect to marriage, and/or better target economically vulnerable people. All proposals are roughly cost-equivalent in 2050. We find that all three packages—earnings sharing, replacement of most of the spouse benefit with a minimum, and full spouse replacement with caregiver credits—reduced poverty modestly and made lifetime benefits more similar for couples paying the same amount in taxes relative to current law scheduled. The earnings-sharing proposal, however, only achieved the poverty reduction with significant adjustments to the treatment of surviving spouses through a self-financed survivor benefit. The packages reveal important tradeoffs among beneficiary groups, with particular tensions between workers and non-workers, and married, never married, divorced, and widowed persons.

December 2006

Changing Progressivity as a Means of Risk Protection in Investment-Based Social Security

by Andrew A. Samwick
SSA Project # NB06-02
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 13059

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This paper analyzes changes in the progressivity of the Social Security benefit formula as a means of lessening the risk inherent in investment-based Social Security reform. Focusing on a single cohort of workers, it simulates the distribution of benefits subject to both earnings and financial risks in a reformed system in which solvency has been restored and traditional benefits have been augmented by personal retirement accounts (PRAs). The simulations show that some investment in equities is desirable in all cases. However, switching from the current benefit formula to the maximally progressive formula—a flat benefit independent of earnings—improves the welfare of the the bottom 30 percent of the earnings distribution even if they reduce their PRA investments in equity to zero. An additional 30 percent of earners can lessen their equity investments without loss of welfare under the maximally progressive formula. Intermediate approaches in which traditional benefit replacement rates for lower earnings are reduced by less than those for higher earnings allow about half of the equity risk to be eliminated for the lowest earnings decile. Sensitivity tests show that these patterns are robust to different assumptions about risk aversion, the equity premium, and the size of the personal retirement accounts established by the reform.

Cross-National Comparison of Income and Wealth Status in Retirement: First Results from the Luxembourg Wealth Study (LWS)

by Eva Sierminska, Timothy Smeeding, and Andrea Brandolini
SSA Project # BC06-15 • International Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-03

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In this paper, we assess the role of income and wealth in comparing economic security of older persons in the United States in cross-national perspective. We compare our elders to those in six other rich OECD countries (Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and the United Kingdom). These countries have diverse social policy systems, with respect to both social insurance and public assistance; and they have very different patterns of private wealth holding. The paper is based on a new source of wealth micro data, known as the Luxembourg Wealth Study (LWS). In this paper, we first develop a comparable definition of wealth and net worth across nations and then focus our efforts on the inter-country variation in the composition of income and asset packages for those 65 and over, with respect to the main sources in each package. We examine the structure of income and wealth holdings and their joint distribution; how the poor fare; how assets vary by education; and the importance of home owning to elders in almost every nation. We conclude by comparing the risks associated with private assets to those associated with under-funded public pension systems.

Crowd-out, Adverse Selection and Information in Annuity Markets: Evidence from a New Retrospective Data Set in Chile

by Alejandra Cox Edwards and Estelle James
SSA Project # UM06-19 • International Research
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-147

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Annuitization is often considered a socially desirable payout mode from pension plans, because it provides a lifelong income stream and therefore ensures that retirees will not run out of money. However, annuitization is rare in most countries. This project examines workers' choices during the payout stage in Chile, the only country that has had mandatory personal accounts long enough to have had substantial experience with payouts. Upon retirement, workers in Chile have limited options for payouts: they must either annuitize or take gradual withdrawal. Two-thirds have annuitized. We expect that retirees are less likely to annuitize if their accumulation finances a pension in the vicinity of the minimum pension, whose value is guaranteed by the state. In that case, publicly financed longevity insurance is likely to crowd out private annuity insurance. We expect that retirees with health problems are also less likely to annuitize, possibly leading to adverse selection. Finally, we expect that individuals with greater risk aversion, smaller time preference and better knowledge about the system are more likely to annuitize. A new retrospective data set from Chile yields evidence that is broadly consistent with these hypotheses.

The Decline of Defined Benefit Retirement Plans and Asset Flows

by James Poterba, Steven Venti, and David A. Wise
SSA Project # NB06-01
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 12834

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Demographic change can have an important effect on the stock of assets held in defined benefit pension plans. This paper projects the impact of changes in the age structure of the U.S. population between 2005 and 2040 on the stock of assets held by these plans. It projects the contributions to and withdrawals from these plans. These projections are combined with estimates of the future evolution of assets in 401(k)-like plans to describe the prospective impact of demographic change on the stock of assets in retirement plans. Information on demography-linked changes in asset demand is a critical input to evaluating the potential impact of population aging on asset returns.

The Importance of Objective Health Measures in Predicting Early Receipt of Social Security Benefits: The Case of Fatness

by Richard V. Burkhauser and John H. Cawley
SSA Project # UM06-23
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-148

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Theoretical models argue that poor health will contribute to early exit from the labor market and the decision to take early Social Security retirement benefits (Old-Age or OA benefits). However, most empirical estimates of the causal importance of health on the decision to take early OA benefits have been forced to rely on global measures such as self-rated work limitations or self-rated health. We contribute to the empirical literature by using a more objective measure of health, fatness, to predict early receipt of OA benefits. We do so by estimating the causal impact of fatness within an empirical model using the method of instrumental variables, and testing the robustness of our findings using the most common measure of fatness in the social science literature—body mass index—with what is a more theoretically appropriate measure of fatness—total body fat and percent body fat. Overall, our conclusion is that fatness and obesity are strong predictors of early receipt of OA benefits.

Notional Defined Contribution Pension Systems in a Stochastic Context: Design and Stability

by Alan J. Auerbach and Ronald Lee
SSA Project # NB06-09
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 12805

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Around the world, Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) public pension programs face serious long-term fiscal problems due primarily to actual and projected population aging, and most appear unsustainable as currently structured. Some have proposed the replacement of such plans with systems of fully funded private or personal Defined Contribution (DC) accounts, but the difficulties of transition to funded systems have limited their implementation. Recently, a new variety of public pension program known as "Notional Defined Contribution" or "Non-financial Defined Contribution" (NDC) has been created, with the objectives of addressing the fiscal instability of traditional plans and mimicking the characteristics of funded DC plans while retaining PAYGO finance. Using different versions of the system recently adopted in Sweden, calibrated to US demographic and economic parameters, we evaluate the success of the NDC approach in achieving fiscal stability in a stochastic context. (In a companion paper, we will consider other aspects of the performance of NDC plans in comparison to traditional PAYGO pensions.) We find that the basic NDC scheme is effective at preventing excessive debt accumulation, but does little to prevent significant asset accumulation along many trajectories and on average. With adjustment, however, the NDC approach can be made more stable.

Pricing Personal Account Benefit Guarantees: A Simplified Approach

by Andrew Biggs, Clark Burdick, and Kent Smetters
SSA Project # NB06-05
National Bureau of Economic Research

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A number of proposals to introduce personal accounts to the Social Security program contain provisions that would guarantee account-holders against relatively poor investment performance that would make their total benefits fall below the level scheduled under current law. Presently, most policy focus is placed on the expected cost of such guarantees, as few estimates are published evaluating the potential market cost of insuring against the associated risk. This paper demonstrates how a simple modification of parameter inputs used to calculate the expected cost of guarantees would allow analysts to estimate the market cost of the underlying risk.

The Progressivity of Social Security

by Jeffrey R. Brown, Julia Lynn Coronado, and Don Fullerton
SSA Project # NB06-10
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This paper provides new evidence on the progressivity of the Social Security retirement program. Using the PSID, we explore how progressivity differs depending on the definition of income, how it is affected by the measure of progressivity used, and how progressivity may change over time due to differences in the economic behavior of successive cohorts. We have four major findings. First, we find that when progressivity is measured using more comprehensive concepts of income, the Social Security system exhibits less overall progressivity than when it is evaluated using more narrow definitions of income. Indeed, when evaluated using potential labor earnings at the household level (rather than actual earnings at the individual level), the Social Security retirement program exhibits virtually no overall progressivity as measured by the change in the Gini coefficient. Second, we find that this result is largely driven by the lack of progressivity (and in some cases, the presence of regressivity) in the middle and upper part of the income distribution, which masks the presence of positive, if small, net transfers to the bottom income quintile. Third, we find that even when there is redistribution occurring, it is not efficiently targeted, with many high income households receiving net transfers, while many low income households pay net taxes. Finally, we show that the extent to which progressivity differs across cohorts depends on the income concept used.

Reducing Social Security PRA Risk at the Individual Level: Lifecycle Funds and No-Loss Strategies

by James Poterba, Joshua Rauh, Steven Venti, and David Wise
SSA Project # NB06-07
National Bureau of Economic Research

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This paper examines how following different personal retirement account (PRA) asset allocation strategies over the course of a worker's career would affect the distribution of retirement wealth and the expected utility of wealth at retirement. It considers rules that allocate a constant portfolio fraction to various assets at all ages, as well as "lifecycle" rules that vary the mix of portfolio assets as the worker ages. The analysis simulates retirement wealth using asset returns that are drawn from the historical return distribution. The expected utility associated with different PRA asset allocation strategies, and the ranking of these strategies, is sensitive to four features of markets and households: the return on corporate stock, the worker's relative risk aversion, the amount of non-PRA wealth that the worker will have available at retirement, and the expense ratios charged for the investment. At modest levels of risk aversion, or in the presence of substantial non-PRA wealth at retirement, the historical pattern of stock and bond returns implies that the expected utility of investing completely in diversified stocks is greater than that from any of the more conservative strategies. Higher risk aversion or lower expected returns on stocks raises the expected utility of portfolios that include less risky assets. There often exists a fixed-proportions portfolio of stocks and inflationindexed government bonds that yields expected utility at retirement that is at least as high as that from typical lifecycle investment strategies. When asset allocation is near the allocation that generates the highest expected utility, variation in expense ratios has a greater effect on retirement utility than variation in asset allocation.

Removing the Disincentives in Social Security for Long Careers

by Gopi Shah Goda, John B. Shoven, and Sita Nataraj Slavov
SSA Project # NB06-06
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 13110

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Implicit taxes in Social Security, which measure Social Security contributions net of benefits accrued as a percentage of earnings, tend to increase over the life cycle. In this paper, we examine the effects of three potential policy changes on implicit Social Security tax rates: extending the number of years used in the Social Security formula from 35 to 40; allowing individuals who have worked more than 40 years to be exempt from payroll taxes; and distinguishing between lifetime low-income earners and high-income earners who work short careers. These three changes can be achieved in a benefit- and revenue-neutral manner, and create a pattern of implicit tax rates that are much less distortionary over the life cycle, eliminating the high implicit tax rates faced by many elderly workers. The effects of these policies on progressivity and women are also examined.

The Repeal of the Retirement Earnings Test and the Labor Supply of Older Men

by Gary V. Engelhardt and Anil Kumar
SSA Project # BC06-03
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-1

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This paper examines the impact of the Senior Citizens Freedom to Work Act of 2000, which abolished the Social Security retirement earnings test for those aged 65–69, on the labor supply of older men using data from the 1996–2004 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). Based on reduced-form specifications, we find that the repeal of the earnings test increased labor supply on the intensive margin by 12–17 percent, the bulk of which was concentrated among men with a high-school degree, whose labor supply rose by 19–26 percent. We formulate a unique test for endogenous reporting of health status by examining how reported health changes with the repeal of the earnings test. We find some evidence of endogenous self-reported health status. In particular, older men were substantially less likely to have reported that health limits their ability to work after, relative to before the earnings test repeal, with the bulk of the effect concentrated among men with high-school degrees, who had the largest labor-supply response to the repeal.

Saving and Demographic Change: The Global Dimension

by Barry Bosworth and Gabriel Chodorow-Reich
SSA Project # BC06-17
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2007-2

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This paper uses a panel data set of 85 countries covering 1960–2005 to investigate the macroeconomic linkages between national rates of saving and investment and population aging. The issue takes on added significance because of the recent suggestion that the decline in global interest rates has been driven by demographic changes in the industrial economies. We do find a significant correlation between the age composition of the population and nations' rates of saving and investment, but the effects vary substantially by region. They are very strong for the non-industrial economies of Asia, but weak in the high-income countries. We also find evidence of demographic effects on both the public and private components of national saving. Furthermore, we conclude that the demographic effects on saving will be less disruptive than sometimes believed because of offsetting declines in investment. However, the effects on saving are stronger than those for investment, implying that most aging economies will ultimately be pushed in the direction of current account deficits. In contrast to some of the recent discussion, we find that demographic change is already exerting a downward pressure on saving in the high-income economies and that the current evidence of a global saving glut is related more to the weakness of investment—particularly in Asia—and the high short-run saving of the oil-producing countries. We conclude with a discussion of why the effects appear to be so strong in Asia.

Who Chooses Defined Contribution Plans?

by Jeffrey R. Brown and Scott J. Weisbenner
SSA Project # NB06-03
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 12842

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This paper provides new evidence on what types of individuals are most likely to choose a defined contribution (DC) plan over a defined benefit (DB) plan. Making use of administrative data from the State Universities Retirement System (SURS) of Illinois, we study the decisions of nearly 50,000 new employees who make a one-time, irrevocable choice between a traditional DB plan, a portable DB plan, and an entirely self-managed DC plan. Because the SURS-covered earnings of these employees are not covered under the Social Security system, their choices provides insight into the DB vs. DC preferences of individuals with regard to a primary source of their retirement income. We find that a majority of participants fail to make an active decision and are thus defaulted into the traditional DB plan after 6 months. We also find that those individuals who are most likely to be financially sophisticated are most likely to choose the self-managed DC plan, despite the fact that, given plan parameters, the DC plan is inferior to the portable DB plan under reasonable assumptions about future financial market returns. We discuss both rational and behavioral reasons that might explain this finding.

November 2006

Financial Literacy and Retirement Preparedness: Evidence and Implications for Financial Education Programs

by Annamaria Lusardi and Olivia S. Mitchell
SSA Project # UM06-05
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-144

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Economists are beginning to investigate the causes and consequences of financial illiteracy to better understand why retirement planning is lacking and why so many households arrive close to retirement with little or no wealth. Our review reveals that many households are unfamiliar with even the most basic economic concepts needed to make saving and investment decisions. Such financial illiteracy is widespread: the young and older people in the United States and other countries appear woefully under-informed about basic financial computations, with serious implications for saving, retirement planning, mortgages, and other decisions. In response, governments and several nonprofit organizations have undertaken initiatives to enhance financial literacy. The experience of other countries, including a saving campaign in Japan as well as the Swedish pension privatization program, offers insights into possible roles for financial literacy and saving programs.

Home Production by Dual Earner Couples and Consumption During Retirement

by Christopher House, John P. Laitner, and Dmitriy Stolyarov
SSA Project # UM06-10
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-143

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To study the role of home production in life?cycle behavior, this paper creates a theoretical model in which both spouses in a couple allocate their time between market and home work. It then derives a pair of regression equations for estimating the parameters of the model, and it carries out the estimation using panel data on household net worth and lifetime earnings from the Health and Retirement Study and pseudo?panel data on household consumption expenditures from the Consumer Expenditure Survey. We estimate that the value of forgone home production is roughly 10–15 cents for every dollar that a married man earns, but 30–35 cents per dollar of married women's market earnings. Our findings imply male labor supply elasticities that are very near zero and female elasticities in the range of 0.50. Our model predicts a substantial decline in measured consumption expenditure at a household's retirement, and it shows that Euler?equation models of consumption behavior should include terms reflecting home production.

Life-Cycle Asset Allocation with Annuity Markets: Is Longevity Insurance a Good Deal?

by Wolfram J. Horneff, Raimond H. Maurer, and Michael Z. Stamos
SSA Project # UM06-11
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-146

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We derive the optimal portfolio choice over the life-cycle for households facing labor income, capital market, and mortality risk. In addition to stocks and bonds, households also have access to incomplete annuity markets offering a hedge against mortality risk. We show that a considerable fraction of wealth should be annuitized to skim the return enhancing mortality credit. The remaining liquid wealth (stocks and bonds) is used to hedge labor income risk during work life, to earn the equity premium, and to ensure estate for the heirs. Furthermore, we assess the importance of common explanations for limited participation in annuity markets.

Persistence in Labor Supply and the Response to the Social Security Earnings Test

by Leora Friedberg and Anthony Webb
SSA Project # BC06-03
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2006-27

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This paper investigates the impact on labor supply of changes in the Social Security earnings test in 1996 and 2000. We highlight how the persistence of labor supply choices influences both responses to policy changes and the estimation of such responses. We do this in two ways. First, we use data from the Health and Retirement Study and the Current Population Survey that allows us to compare employment transitions across cohorts that are differentially affected by changes in the earnings test rules. We show that conditioning on last year's employment status is important in identifying responses to current earnings test changes. Second, we test the effect of not only current but also anticipated as well as past earnings test parameters which cohorts faced at earlier ages. We find that past and anticipated future rules influence current employment and earnings. Our results help to identify an effect of earnings test changes affecting ages 65–69 on employment at younger and older ages, which suggests caution about the use of neighboring age groups as control groups in analyzing responses to the earnings test. We also show that earnings test changes that were initiated in 1996 had an important effect, in addition to the changes in 2000 that have been extensively studied.

Risk and Reward of International Investing for U.S. Retirement Savers: Historical Evidence

by Gary Burtless
SSA Project # BC06-09 • International Research
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2006-25

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A crucial decision facing retirement savers is how to allocate their savings across broad investment classes, including the choice of how to divide investments between domestic and foreign holdings. This study investigates whether cross-border investing would have been advantageous to U.S. retirement savers in the past. The analysis is based on empirical evidence on asset returns in eight industrialized countries that have reliable historical time series data on stock and government bond returns. The goal is to determine whether U.S. workers would have obtained higher expected retirement incomes, with smaller risk of catastrophic investment shortfalls, if they invested part of their retirement savings in foreign stocks and bonds without hedging the currency risks of their overseas investments. The results show that workers could indeed have increased their expected pensions if they included unhedged foreign assets in their portfolio and if the portfolio were selected from one on the efficient frontier. Under many naïve investing strategies, however, increasing workers' allocation to overseas assets will not reduce the risk of catastrophically poor investment performance. The tabulations show that the risk of obtaining a very low pension replacement rate actually increases if workers allocate a sizeable percentage of their savings to overseas investments.

Self-Assessed Retirement Outcomes: Determinants and Pathways

by Susann Rohwedder
SSA Project # UM06-14
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-141

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There is increasing interest among policy makers in measuring well-being in ways that go beyond purely economic indicators, also with special focus on older individuals who constitute an increasing fraction of the population. However there is little consensus on which other indicators should be included. An alternative approach is to use individuals' own assessments and relate these to a rich set of covariates to find what factors influence individuals' own perceptions. This is the approach adopted in this paper, using data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). Retired respondents are asked how satisfying their retirement has turned out to be, how retirement years compare to pre-retirement years and whether they are worried about not having enough income to get by in retirement. I relate these self-assessed measures to a rich set of covariates to investigate which aspects weigh in individuals' perceptions. I use the longitudinal nature of the HRS to study the pathways that lead up to the observed retirement outcomes, and to examine the persistence of the outcomes over time. Bad health, changes towards worse health, social isolation and increase in social isolation lead most significantly to lower satisfaction in retirement and a greater sense of financial insecurity in retirement. A short financial planning horizon and past shocks, like unexpected large expenses or divorce, also have a noticeable negative impact.

Social Security Privatization with Income-Mortality Correlation

by Shinichi Nishiyama and Kent Smetters
SSA Project # UM06-07
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-140

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While privatizing Social Security can improve labor supply incentives, it can also reduce risk sharing. We simulate a 50-percent privatization using an overlapping-generations model where heterogeneous agents with elastic labor supply face idiosyncratic earnings shocks and longevity uncertainty. When wage shocks are insurable, privatization produces about $30,100 of extra resources for each future household after all transitional losses have been paid. When wages are not insurable, privatization reduces efficiency by about $8,100 per future household. We check the robustness of these results to different model specifications as well as policy reforms and arrive at several surprising conclusions. First, privatization performs better in a closed economy, where interest rates decline with capital accumulation, than in an open economy. Second, privatization also performs better when an actuarially-fair private annuity market does not exist. Third, government matching of private contributions on a progressive basis is not very effective at restoring efficiency and can actually harm.

October 2006

Alternative Measures of Replacement Rates

by Michael Hurd and Susann Rohwedder
SSA Project # UM06-03
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-132

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This study finds that on average those just past the usual retirement age are adequately prepared for retirement in that they will be able to follow a path of consumption that begins at their current level of consumption and then follows an age-pattern similar to that of current retirees. That pattern is similar to what would be found from a theoretically derived and estimated life-cycle model. Thus we do not find inadequate preparation for retirement on average or even at the median. This is not true, however, for all groups in the population. In particular, singles lacking a high school education are likely to be forced to reduce consumption: some 62 percent would have died with negative wealth had they followed the consumption path given by our data. Future research will show the extent to which this percentage is over-estimated because we did not account for differential mortality.

Discouraged Workers? Job Search Outcomes of Older Workers

by Nicole Maestas and Xiaoyan Li
SSA Project # UM06-21
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-133

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Many have suggested we adopt policies that explicitly encourage the elderly to work. Behind this suggestion is the assumption that if an older person desires a job, one will be found; however, little is known about the extent to which this is true, and in the Health and Retirement Study, many more respondents say they expect to work after retirement than actually undertake work. This raises an important question: To what extent can the elderly readily find suitable jobs? In the context of a theoretical job search model, we examine the decision to search for a job and the probability of transitioning to employment using a large sample of non-workers from the Health and Retirement Study. The effects of both supply-side factors (individual characteristics) and demand-side factors (local labor market conditions) are estimated. We find employment transition rates are relatively low for older searchers: only half of older searchers successfully attain jobs. We examine various explanations for this result, including variation in search intensity, reservation wages, and the possibility of intervening health shocks. We conclude that about 13 percent of older job searchers becomes a discouraged worker in the sense of being willing to work at the prevailing wage, but unable to find a job.

A Dynamic Model of Retirement and Social Security Reform Expectations: A Solution to the New Early Retirement Puzzle

by Hugo A. Benitez-Silva, Debra Sabatini Dwyer, and Warren C. Sanderson
SSA Project # UM06-17
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-134

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The need for Social Security Reform in the next years is hardly a matter of debate. Therefore, the widespread believe among Americans that Social Security will not be able to pay benefits in the long run at the level that was anticipated, does not come as a surprise. The government acknowledges the situation, and predicts that substantial benefits cuts will be necessary, yet no legislation has been passed to tackle the problem. Researchers, however, have rarely modeled the uncertainty over Social Security reform and benefit levels, and how they affect claiming behavior and retirement. The purpose of this paper is to assess the extent to which these perceptions of future cuts might explain the puzzle of earlier take-up despite bigger penalties to doing so in the presence of increasing longevity. By introducing a small amount of uncertainty (based on self-reported responses to questions regarding expectations over future cuts) of a relatively small cut (compared with what the government reports as necessary to solve the crisis) in a dynamic life-cycle model of retirement, we are able to match the claiming behavior observed in the data, without relying on heterogeneous preferences. Our results support the hypothesis that expectations over future benefits are affecting current behavior. We find that a mis-specified dynamic retirement model would erroneously predict that an increase in the NRA would delay claiming behavior and increase labor supply at older ages. Once the appropriate earnings test incentives are modeled, and we account for the probability of reforms to the system, an increase in the NRA has little effect on claiming behavior, and it can even increase the proportion of individuals claiming before the NRA.

Health Care Costs, Taxes, and the Retirement Decision: Conceptual Issues and Illustrative Simulation

by Rudolph G. Penner and Richard W. Johnson
SSA Project # BC06-05
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2006-20

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Soaring health costs are squeezing government and household budgets. Rising public costs are also likely to boost future tax burdens. This study considers how rising tax burdens and out-of-pocket health care costs will affect the timing of retirement. Conceptually, the impact of taxes depends on which particular taxes are raised. How well people anticipate future increases in taxes and health care costs, and how they react at younger ages, will crucially affect retirement impacts. If households are farseeing rational planners, higher health costs and tax burdens will likely induce more saving and harder work while young, muting effects on retirement decisions. To gauge the potential importance of rising taxes and health care costs to the retirement decision, the study compares projected retirement income for prototypical workers under two sets of assumptions about future tax and health care burdens. The results show that a moderate-income couple would have to work an additional 2.5 years under the scenario with high health care costs and tax burdens to receive as much income in the first year of retirement—net of taxes and out-of-pocket health spending—as they would receive under the low-cost scenario. The low-income couple would have to delay retirement under the high cost scenario by about 2.4 years to offset income lost from higher taxes and health costs, and the high-income couple would have to work an additional 2.8 years.

How Did the Elimination of the Earnings Test Above the Normal Retirement Age Affect Retirement Expectations?

by Pierre-Carl Michaud and Arthur van Soest
SSA Project # UM06-13
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-135

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This study examines the effect of the 2000 repeal of the earnings test above the normal retirement age on retirement expectations of workers aged 51 to 61—their probabilities to work past age 62 and 65 as well as the age at which they expect to start claiming old age social security benefits. We use administrative records linked to the HRS to create variables that accurately reflect the change in financial incentives. For men, we find results in line with theoretical predictions on the probability to work after age 65. For example, men whose marginal wage rate increased when the earnings test was repealed, showed the largest increase in the probability to work full-time past normal retirement age. For women, we do not find significant results, possibly due to omitting spouse benefits and their interaction with the earnings test. We also do not find significant evidence of effects of the repeal of the earnings test on the probability to work past age 62 or the expected claiming age. On the other hand, for those reaching the normal retirement age, deviations between the age at which Social Security benefits are actually claimed and the previously reported expected age are more negative in 2000 than in 1998, suggesting that the repeal has increased claiming immediately after reaching normal retirement age. Since our calculations show that the tax introduced by the earnings test was small when accounting for actuarial benefit adjustments and differential mortality, our results suggest that although workers form expectations in a way consistent with forward-looking behavior, they misperceive the complicated rules of the earnings test.

The Impact of Aggregate Mortality Risk on Defined Benefit Pension Plans

by Irena Dushi, Leora Friedberg, and Anthony Webb
SSA Project # BC06-04
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2006-21

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We calculate the risk faced by defined benefit plan providers arising from uncertain aggregate mortality—the risk that the average participant will live longer than expected. First, comparing the widely cited Lee-Carter model to industry benchmarks, we show that plan providers appear to substantially underestimate the longevity of their employees. The resultant understatement of liabilities is 15.2 percent, when weighted by the characteristics of typical male participants in defined benefit plans, and reaches as much as 25.2 percent for male workers aged 22. Next, we consider the substantial mortality risk that arises even if plan providers were to use the Lee-Carter model or other unbiased forecasts of mortality reductions. We calculate the consequences for plan liabilities if aggregate mortality declines unexpectedly faster than is predicted by an unbiased projection. There is a 5 percent chance that liabilities of a terminated plan would be 2.9 to 5.1 percent higher than what is expected, depending on the mix of workers covered. Lastly, we explain how longevity bonds might be used to transfer mortality risk from defined benefit plans to the capital markets, and we calculate a risk premium for a hypothetical frozen plan.

Job Tenure and Pension Coverage

by Alicia H. Munnell, Kelly Haverstick, and Geoffrey Sanzenbacher
SSA Project # BC06-08
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2006-18

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Commentators constantly cite an increase in labor mobility as a major reason for the shift in the private sector from defined benefit to defined contribution plans. But while most casual observers accept such a phenomenon, economists have been hard pressed to find any significant change over time. Only in recent years have the data indicated that mobility might have increased for some groups. This pattern suggests that the advent of 401(k) plans led to an increase in mobility rather than an increase in mobility leading to the proliferation of 401(k)s. This paper attempts to sort out this "chicken and egg" issue using data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the 1984 through 2001 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).

Optimal Retirement Asset Decumulation Strategies: The Impact of Housing Wealth

by Anthony Webb, Wei Sun, and Robert K. Triest
SSA Project # BC06-14
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2006-22

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A considerable literature examines the optimal decumulation of financial wealth in retirement. We extend this line of research to incorporate housing, which comprises the majority of most households' non-pension wealth. We use VARs to estimate the relationship between the returns on housing, stocks, and bonds, and use simulation techniques to investigate a variety of decumulation strategies incorporating reverse mortgages. Under a wide variety of assumptions, we find that the average household would be as much as 33 percent better off taking a reverse mortgage as a lifetime income relative to what appears to be the most common strategy of delaying until financial wealth is exhausted and then taking a line of credit. It would be as much as 62 percent better off relative to not taking a reverse mortgage at all. Housing wealth displaces bonds in optimal portfolios, making the low rate of participation in the stock market even more of a puzzle.

Planning and Financial Literacy: How Do Women Fare?

by Annamaria Lusardi and Olivia S. Mitchell
SSA Project # UM06-05
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-136

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Many older US households have done little or no planning for retirement, and there is a substantial population that seems to undersave for retirement. Of particular concern is the relative position of older women, who are more vulnerable to old-age poverty due to their longer longevity. This paper uses data from a special module we devised on planning and financial literacy in the 2004 Health and Retirement Study. The evidence indicates that women display much lower levels of financial literacy than the older population as a whole. In addition, women who are less financially literate are also less likely to plan for retirement and be successful planners. These findings have important implications for policy and for programs aimed at fostering financial security at older ages.

Retirement Savings Portfolio Management

by Jeff Dominitz and Angela Hung
SSA Project # UM06-20
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-138

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We assess the welfare implications of alternative retirement plan investment options given that households may not invest according to optimal portfolio choice theory but may instead use simple decision rules. We simulate the performance of lifestyle, lifecycle, and other simple strategies for allocating retirement savings. We find that if investors use simple rules of thumb to choose investments, then the impact of these strategies on welfare depend to a large extent on the choice set they are offered. If larger choice sets cause them to undertake more risk, then risk tolerant individuals may tend to be made better off. If larger choice sets cause them to reduce suboptimally low levels of portfolio risk, then the increased choice set may make them substantially worse off. The welfare effects of plan designs that induce lifecycle investing, which tends to be conservative over the lifetime, therefore depend crucially on the counterfactual portfolio composition, as well as preferences and non-retirement wealth.

Taxes, Wages, and the Labor Supply of Older Americans

by Lucie Schmidt and Pervi Sevak
SSA Project # UM06-08
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-139

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The aging of the U.S. population, combined with an increasing probability that any given older individual will work, means that the importance of older workers to the labor force is rising. One possible solution to the solvency problems facing the Social Security System is increasing the labor supply of older workers. Understanding how policy levers can affect the labor supply of the elderly therefore has become increasingly important. In this paper we use data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), linked to state identifiers, to estimate the responsiveness of the labor supply of older workers to features of the tax code, on both the extensive margin of participation and the intensive margin of hours of work. This unique data set allows us to avoid some of the traditional pitfalls associated with the labor supply literature. We find evidence that the labor supply of older workers is responsive to the tax structure. Our results suggest that government policies could play a role in increasing the labor supply of individuals over the age of 65 by changing the returns to work through the tax code.

Why Do Boomers Plan to Work So Long?

by Gordon B.T. Mermin, Richard W. Johnson, and Dan Murphy
SSA Project # BC06-06
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2006-19

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Recent changes in retirement trends and patterns have raised questions about the likely retirement behavior of baby boomers, the large cohort born between 1946 and 1964. This study compares the retirement expectations of workers ages 51 to 56 in 2004 (who were born between 1948 and 1953, the leading edge of the baby boom) and 1992 (born between 1936 and 1941). Data come from the Health and Retirement Study. Work expectations increased significantly over the period. Between 1992 and 2004, the mean expected probability of working full-time past age 62 among workers ages 51 to 56 increased from 47 percent to 51 percent. The increase was even more rapid for the expected mean probability of full-time work after age 65, which grew from 27 percent to about 33 percent over the period. Controlling for other factors, self employment, education, and earnings increased work expectations at older ages, while defined benefit pension coverage, employer-sponsored retiree health benefits, and household wealth reduced expectations. Lower rates of retiree health insurance offers from employers, higher levels of educational attainment, and lower rates of defined benefit pension coverage accounted for most of the increase between 1992 and 2004 in expected work probabilities after ages 62 and 65. These trends suggest that the boomers will remain at work longer than the previous generation. The recent uptick in average retirement ages appears to be the leading edge of a new long-term trend. Lengthier careers will likely promote economic growth, increase government revenue, and improve individual financial security at older ages.

September 2006

Financial Risk, Retirement, Saving and Investment

by Alan L. Gustman and Thomas L. Steinmeier
SSA Project # UM06-12
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-130

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This paper considers the prospects for adding choice of portfolio composition to a life cycle model of retirement and saving, while preserving the ability of the model to continue to explain the course of saving and retirement. If eventually successful, such a modification might be used to improve understanding of retirement and saving behavior both under the current Social Security system, and under variations involving personal accounts. In particular we consider the implications of separating parameters that now reflect both risk aversion and time preference. We explore a number of barriers to developing a specification that is consistent with observed saving, retirement and investment choices. In our previous model with exponential consumption, individuals would hold portfolios exclusively in stocks, contrary to observation. Changing the exponent of consumption can reduce stock holdings below 100 percent, but at the cost of implausible retirement behavior. Introducing a separate parameter for risk aversion can restore plausible retirement behavior, but the pattern of stock holdings is too high, especially at younger ages, for plausible values of the risk aversion parameter. At the moment, no easy solution is at hand to this fundamental problem now being engaged by financial economists. This suggests that models of retirement and saving may, for the immediate future, be forced to constrain portfolio composition to correspond with levels observed in the data, postponing the inclusion of portfolio mix as a choice variable until further progress is made in modeling that behavior. This does not necessarily reduce the efficiency of life cycle models of retirement and saving. Rather it recognizes that portfolio choice may be influenced by behavior that is not fully consistent with that posed by a life cycle model. Individuals may, for example, be accepting recommendations from planners or firms that they would not otherwise follow if they fully understood how to balance risk and return in portfolio choice in the same way they balance risk and return in their saving and retirement decisions. If these behavioral considerations govern their portfolio choice, while retirement and saving are determined by life cycle considerations, a model that correctly constrains portfolio composition may in fact generate parameter estimates that accurately reflect the forces governing retirement and saving behavior.

Has the Displacement of Older Workers Increased?

by Alicia H. Munnell, Steven A. Sass, Mauricio Soto, and Natalia Zhivan
SSA Project # BC06-13
Center for Retirement Research at Boston College Working Paper 2006-17

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The employment of older workers into their mid-60s will be critical to their ability to ensure a secure retirement. One of the risks threatening the ability to work to older ages is being "displaced," with displacement defined as the elimination of the worker's job due to a shift in the demand for labor. Displacement can easily throw 50-year-old workers off course, disrupt their retirement saving plans, and lead to premature retirement. This paper explores the relationship between job loss and age over the period 1984–2004 using the biennial Displaced Worker Supplement to the Current Population Survey. It finds that no major trends in the displacement of older workers have occurred over the 11 Displaced Worker Surveys conducted during the period. Re-employment rates for older workers appear to have improved. And the earnings loss associated with the displacement of older workers has not changed significantly. Two other significant findings relate to tenure and education. First, the historical protection that older workers appeared to have against displacement was due to tenure not to age per se. Controlling for tenure, the probability of displacement increases with age. Second, college education is no longer a source of significant protection in the world of displacement, and its importance has declined sharply for re-employment.

How Accurate are Expected Retirement Savings?

by Stephen J. Haider and Mel Stephens Jr.
SSA Project # UM06-04
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-128

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This paper examines the ability of workers nearing retirement to report their expected retirement savings, where retirement savings refers to funds held in savings, checking, and investment-type accounts. Responding to such a question is likely to be difficult, even for those who are near retirement, because it requires respondents to assess when they will retire, their likely income stream between the survey date and retirement, and what portfolio choices will be made at retirement. Based on two nationally representative surveys collected two decades apart, we find that most individuals provide some response to the question, particularly when they are allowed to provide a range. Moreover, the responses that are given have substantial predictive power for actual retirement savings, even when compared to the savings in the initial wave. Despite this predictive power, there is evidence that responses do not satisfy the more stringent requirements of the rational expectations hypothesis.

How Changes in Social Security Affect Retirement Trends

by Alan L. Gustman and Thomas L. Steinmeier
SSA Project # UM06-02
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-127

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For married men, we find the conventional view of retirement trends—that the long term trend to early retirement has been reversed—is partially contradicted by recent data. Specifically, descriptive data collected from both the Census and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) suggest that for those in their fifties, over the periods 1992 to 1998 and 1998 to 2004, the trend to early retirement reasserted itself and labor force participation fell. In contrast, for those in their sixties, there was an increase in work. Similarly, for those 65 and over, the amount of work increased. Simulations with a structural retirement model suggest that the recent acceleration of the trend to early retirement for those in their fifties is not the result of the change in Social Security rules. According to our model, changes in Social Security rules are expected to reduce the number of those in their early sixties who are working. This suggests that forces other than changing Social Security rules account for the observed increase in work by those in their early sixties, and that the effects of these forces are stronger than those suggested by the trends in descriptive data. Lastly, the analysis suggests that changing Social Security rules do help to explain the increase in work by those age 65 and older. The effects of these rule changes encourage workers to remain in their long term jobs for a longer time, encourage some to return from retirement to full time work, and encourage more partial retirement. Nevertheless, the changes in retirement induced by Social Security changes have been modest. Due to Social Security changes, the number of 65-year-old married men at work increases by about two percentage points at ages 65 and 66, with slightly smaller changes at 67 to 69. Given the low basic labor force participation at 65 and 66, with 20 to 25 percent at full time work, and another 17 percent at part time work, the percentage increases in work due to Social Security changes are three or four times higher.

Men With Health Insurance and the Women Who Love Them: the Effect of a Husband's Retirement on His Wife's Health Insurance Coverage

by Jody Schimmel
SSA Project # UM06-15
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-131

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Health insurance coverage in the years prior to retirement is particularly important because it protects the household from the financial risks of uninsurance as well as the health consequences of delaying care while uninsured. While results from the retirement "job lock" literature show that those who would lack coverage after retirement continue to work to maintain benefits, little work has explored the types of health insurance choices made by couples after retirement. It may be difficult for a married man to coordinate continuous coverage for a younger wife whose primary source of coverage has been from the husband, and thus households may pay more for non-group coverage or be exposed to the risks of uninsurance. This paper studies a panel of married couples from the 1992–2004 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to study the types of health insurance decisions households make around the time of retirement. Results indicate that households seem to do well at avoiding uninsurance at the time of retirement, but may make high cost choices in order to insure the wife. Men switch into Medicare or coverage from their wife at retirement if they lose their own coverage, but a large fraction of women take-up privately purchased coverage. In fact, the transition from husband's coverage to privately purchased coverage is twice as large in periods when the husband retires than otherwise. Transitions to uninsurance are lower in periods of retirement than at other times, suggesting that men continue to work if either spouse would lose coverage. Though less risky, insurance purchased in the non-group market is expensive relative to employer-sponsored coverage. Thus, married households may need to increase savings to pay for health insurance that bridges the gap until the wife can claim Medicare at age 65.

Probabilistic Thinking and Early Social Security Claiming

by Adeline Delavande, Michael Perry, and Robert J. Willis
SSA Project # UM06-09
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-129

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This study analyzes the extent to which an individual's survival expectations influence his or her decision to claim social security benefits at an early age. We find that subjective survival probabilities capture meaningful behavioral responses to incentives for early Social Security claiming when they are purged of measurement error using risk factors as instruments. Among people who are still working at age 62, those who expect to live longer are likely to delay claiming of Social Security benefits to a degree that is both statistically and economically significant. For example, an increase of 5 percentage points in the subjective probability of survival to age 75 of each person leads to a 1.9 percentage point decline in the proportion who claim before age 64, from 29.6 percent to 27.7 percent.

August 2006

Americans' Dependency on Social Security

by Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Ben Marx, and Pietro Rizza
SSA Project # UM06-16
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-126

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According to a recent estimate by Gokhale and Smetters (2005), the present value difference between the U.S. government's projected future expenditures and its projected future tax receipts exceeds $60 trillion. Closing this enormous fiscal gap requires a variety of different tax increases and expenditure reductions. In this paper we examine how potential Social Security benefit cuts would impact the wellbeing of different American households. Specifically, we examine the living standard impacts of immediate and permanent 30 percent and 100 percent cuts in Social Security benefits. We examine cuts of these magnitudes to illustrate the dependency of the population on Social Security and to help policymakers calibrate the cost to Americans of this form of policy adjustment. The extent of current and future living standard reductions in response to announcements of future Social Security benefit cuts depends on the age of the household, when the cuts are announced, the size of the cuts, and the income of the household. Social Security benefit cuts of 30 percent, if announced when a household is about to retire, can lead to retirement living standard reductions ranging from roughly one tenth to one third depending on the household's income. These reductions in living standard are substantially reduced if the household learns at younger ages about the benefit cuts and, consequently, has a longer time period over which to adjust.

July 2006

The Excess Burden of Government Indecision

by Francisco Gomez, Laurence J. Kotlikoff, and Luis M. Viceira
SSA Project # UM06-16
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-123

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Governments are known for procrastinating when it comes to resolving painful policy problems. Whatever the political motives for waiting to decide, procrastination distorts economic decisions relative to what would arise with early policy resolution. In so doing, they engender excess burden. This paper posits, calibrates, and simulates a life cycle model with earnings, lifespan, investment return, and future policy uncertainty. It then measures the excess burden from delayed resolution of policy uncertainty. The first uncertain policy we consider concerns the level of future Social Security benefits. Specifically, we examine how an age-25 agent would respond to learning at an early age whether she will experience a major Social Security benefit cut starting at age 65. We show that having to wait to learn materially affects consumption, saving, and portfolio decisions. It also reduces welfare. Indeed, we show that the excess burden of government indecision can, in this instance, range as large as 0.6 percent of the agent's economic resources. This is a significant distortion in of itself. It's also significant when compared to other distortions measured in the literature.

The Inattentive Participant: Portfolio Trading Behavior in 401(k) Plans

by Olivia S. Mitchell, Gary R. Mottola, Stephen P. Utkus, and Takeshi Yamaguchi
SSA Project # UM06-06
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-115

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Most workers in defined contribution retirement plans are inattentive portfolio managers: only a few engage in any trading at all, and only a tiny minority trades actively. Using a rich new dataset on 1.2 million workers in over 1,500 plans, we find that most 401(k) plan participants are characterized by profound inertia. Almost all participants (80 percent) initiate no trades, and an additional 11 percent makes only a single trade, in a two-year period. Even among traders, portfolio turnover rates are one-third the rate of professional money managers. Those who trade in their 401(k) plans are more affluent older men, with higher incomes and longer job tenure. They tend to use the internet for 401(k) account access, hold a larger number of investment options, and are more likely to hold active equity funds rather than index or lifecycle funds. Some plan features, including offering own-employer stock, also raise trading levels.

Optimizing the Retirement Decision: Asset Allocation, Annuitization, and Risk Aversion

by Wolfram J. Horneff, Raimond H. Maurer, Olivia S. Mitchell, and Ivica Dus
SSA Project # UM06-11
Michigan Retirement Research Center Working Paper 2006-124

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Retirees must draw down their accumulated assets in an orderly fashion so as not to exhaust their funds too soon. We derive the optimal retirement portfolio from a menu that includes payout annuities as well as an investment allocation and a withdrawal strategy, assuming risk aversion, stochastic capital markets, and uncertain lifetimes. The resulting portfolio allocation, when fixed as of retirement, is then compared to phased withdrawal strategies such a "self-annuitization" plan or the 401(k) "default" pattern encouraged under US tax law. Surprisingly, the fixed percentage approach proves appealing for retirees across a wide range of risk preferences, supporting financial planning advisors who often recommend this rule. We then permit the retiree to switch to an annuity later, which gives her the chance to invest in the capital market and "bet on death." As risk aversion rises, annuities first crowd out bonds in retiree portfolios; at higher risk aversion still, annuities replace equities in the portfolio. Making annuitization compulsory can also lead to substantial utility losses for less risk-averse investors.