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Pensions and the Distribution of Wealth

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  • Kathleen McGarry
  • Andrew Davenport
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    Abstract

    Despite the enormous gains in the economic well-being of the elderly, and the progressivity of the Social Security benefit schedule, there remains substantial inequality in financial resources. In this paper we use data from the Health and Retirement Survey to examine the distribution of pension wealth in relation to other private wealth. We pay particular attention to differences by sex and race. We find that men are approximately 50 percent more likely to have pensions than are women, and conditional on having a pension, the mean value for men is twice as great as that for women. These differences remain significant even when factors such as industry, occupation, and tenure are controlled for. Differences by race are smaller than differences by sex but are still significant. We find further that pension wealth is slightly more equally distributed than is other private wealth, however, adding pension wealth to net worth has only small effects on overall inequality, and these effects are distributed unequally across groups. Single women, in particular, fare worse when pension wealth is included as part of total wealth. In addition to these results, the paper describes in detail the assumptions necessary to calculate pension wealth from the data available in the HRS. We hope this description will lead to a discussion of the most appropriate assumptions to be made in these calculations, and to a standard set of pension wealth variables.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6171.

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    Date of creation: Sep 1997
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    Publication status: published as McGarry, Kathleen and Andrew Davenport. "Pensions and the Distribution of Health". Frontiers in the Economics of Aging. Edited by David Wise, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998, pp. 463-485.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6171

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    References

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    1. Michael D. Hurd & John B. Shoven, 1983. "The Economic Status of the Elderly," NBER Chapters, in: Financial Aspects of the United States Pension System, pages 359-398 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Alan L. Gustman & Olivia S. Mitchell & Andrew A. Samwick & Thomas L. Steinmeier, 1997. "Pension and Social Security Wealth in the Health and Retirement Study," NBER Working Papers 5912, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Smith, J.P., 1996. "Racial and Ethnic Differences in Wealth in the Health and Retirement Study," Papers 96-12, RAND - Reprint Series.
    4. Quinn, Joseph F, 1982. "Pension Wealth of Government and Private Sector Workers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(2), pages 283-87, May.
    5. Zvi Bodie & John B. Shoven, 1983. "Financial Aspects of the United States Pension System," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bodi83-1, June.
    6. Even, W.E. & Macpherson, D.A., 1991. "Why Did Male Pension Coverage Decline in the 1980s?," Working Papers 1991_08_01, Department of Economics, Florida State University.
    7. Steven G. Allen & Robert L. Clark, 1986. "Unions, pension wealth, and age-compensation profiles," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 39(4), pages 502-517, July.
    8. Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier & Olivia Mitchell, 1994. "The role of pensions in the labor market: A survey of the literature," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 47(3), pages 417-438, April.
    9. William E. Even & David A. Macpherson, 1994. "Gender Differences in Pensions," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 29(2), pages 555-587.
    10. Murphy, Kevin M & Welch, Finis, 1990. "Empirical Age-Earnings Profiles," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 8(2), pages 202-29, April.
    11. Even, William E & Macpherson, David A, 1990. "The Gender Gap in Pensions and Wages," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 72(2), pages 259-65, May.
    12. Bloom, David E & Freeman, Richard B, 1992. "The Fall in Private Pension Coverage in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(2), pages 539-45, May.
    13. Steven G. Allen & Robert L. Clark, 1985. "Unions, Pension Wealth, and Age-Compensation Profiles," NBER Working Papers 1677, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:
    1. Edward N. Wolff, 2005. "Is the Equalizing Effect of Retirement Wealth Wearing Off?," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_420, Levy Economics Institute.
    2. Chan Sewin & Stevens Ann H, 2004. "How Does Job Loss Affect the Timing of Retirement?," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 3(1), pages 1-26, May.
    3. Elder, Harold W. & Rudolph, Patricia M., 2000. "Beliefs and actions: expectations and savings decisions by older Americans," Financial Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 33-45, 00.
    4. Edward N. Wolff, 2011. "Pensions in the 2000s: the Lost Decade?," NBER Working Papers 16991, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Wolff, Edward N., 2007. "The retirement wealth of the baby boom generation," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 1-40, January.
    6. Arthur B. Kennickell & Annika E. Sunden, 1997. "Pensions, social security, and the distribution of wealth," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1997-55, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).

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