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Are the Elderly Really Over-Annuitized? New Evidence on Life Insurance and Bequests

In: Themes in the Economics of Aging

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  • Jeffrey Brown

Abstract

This paper provides evidence against the hypothesis that elderly individuals with strong bequest motives purchase term life insurance to offset mandatory annuitization by the existing Social Security system. Using new data on elderly households, this study is able to examine ownership of pure term life insurance separately from whole life, or cash-value, policies. This is an important distinction in the Annuity Offset Model' because the central implication is that term insurance is purchased in order to undo' excessive government annuitization in the form of Social Security, while whole life policies among the elderly primarily consist of tax deferred savings. Evidence is presented that many households simultaneously choose to hold privately purchased annuities and term life insurance, a choice that is inconsistent with the notion that these individuals are over-annuitized. Results also indicate that the hypothesized positive relationship between term insurance ownership and Social Security benefits does not hold once one analyzes term separately from cash value policies. Previous empirical results appear to have been overly favorable to the Annuity Offset Model due to the inability to adequately account for the strong correlation between whole life insurance ownership and Social Security benefits, a correlation that can be attributed to tax-deferred savings and attempts to protect human capital during one's younger working life. Because these findings suggest that households are not seeking to undo' Social Security for bequest reasons, these results have implications for the current debate over annuitization options in an individual accounts retirement system.

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This chapter was published in:

  • David A. Wise, 2001. "Themes in the Economics of Aging," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number wise01-1, Ekim.
    This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 10322.

    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:10322

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    1. Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Avia Spivak, 1979. "The Family as an Incomplete Annuities Market," NBER Working Papers 0362, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1991. "How Strong Are Bequest Motives? Evidence Based on Estimates of the Demand for Life Insurance and Annuities," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(5), pages 899-927, October.
    3. Richard H. Thaler, 2008. "Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice," Marketing Science, INFORMS, INFORMS, vol. 27(1), pages 15-25, 01-02.
    4. Hurd, Michael D, 1987. "Savings of the Elderly and Desired Bequests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(3), pages 298-312, June.
    5. Benjamin M. Friedman & Mark Warshawsky, 1988. "Annuity Prices and Saving Behavior in the United States," NBER Chapters, in: Pensions in the U.S. Economy, pages 53-84 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Samuelson, William & Zeckhauser, Richard, 1988. " Status Quo Bias in Decision Making," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 7-59, March.
    7. Benjamin M. Friedman & Mark Warshawsky, 1985. "Annuity Prices and Saving Behavior in the United States," NBER Working Papers 1683, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Michael D. Hurd & James P. Smith, 1999. "Anticipated and Actual Bequests," NBER Working Papers 7380, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 1987. "IRAs and Saving," NBER Chapters, in: The Effects of Taxation on Capital Accumulation, pages 7-52 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Douglas Holtz-Eakin & John Phillips & Harvey Rosen, 1999. "Estate Taxes, Life Insurance, and Small Business," Center for Policy Research Working Papers, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University 10, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
    11. Olivia S. Mitchell & James M. Poterba & Mark J. Warshawsky, 1997. "New Evidence on the Money's Worth of Individual Annuities," NBER Working Papers 6002, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Alan J. Auerbach & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1985. "Life Insurance of the Elderly: Adequacy and Determinants," NBER Working Papers 1737, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Zvi Bodie & John B. Shoven & David A. Wise, 1988. "Pensions in the U.S. Economy," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bodi88-1, Ekim.
    14. John Laitner & F. Thomas Juster, 1993. "New evidence on altruism: a study of TIAA-CREF retirees," Discussion Paper / Institute for Empirical Macroeconomics 86, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
    15. Kotlikoff, Laurence J & Summers, Lawrence H, 1981. "The Role of Intergenerational Transfers in Aggregate Capital Accumulation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(4), pages 706-32, August.
    16. Hurd, Michael D, 1989. "Mortality Risk and Bequests," Econometrica, Econometric Society, Econometric Society, vol. 57(4), pages 779-813, July.
    17. Alan J. Auerbach & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1989. "How Rational Is the Purchase of Life Insurance?," NBER Working Papers 3063, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Arulampalam, W. & Robin A. Naylor & Jeremy P. Smith, 2002. "University of Warwick," Royal Economic Society Annual Conference 2002, Royal Economic Society 9, Royal Economic Society.
    19. Lewis, Frank D, 1989. "Dependents and the Demand for Life Insurance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(3), pages 452-67, June.
    20. Peter Diamond, 2004. "Social Security," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(1), pages 1-24, March.
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