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Annuitization Puzzles

  • Shlomo Benartzi
  • Alessandro Previtero
  • Richard H. Thaler

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech given in 1985, Franco Modigliani drew attention to the "annuitization puzzle": that annuity contracts, other than pensions through group insurance, are extremely rare. Rational choice theory predicts that households will find annuities attractive at the onset of retirement because they address the risk of outliving one's income, but in fact, relatively few of those facing retirement choose to annuitize a substantial portion of their wealth. There is now a substantial literature on the behavioral economics of retirement saving, which has stressed that both behavioral and institutional factors play an important role in determining a household's saving accumulations. Self-control problems, inertia, and a lack of financial sophistication inhibit some households from providing an adequate retirement nest egg. However, interventions such as automatic enrollment and automatic escalation of saving over time as wages rise (the "save more tomorrow" plan) have shown success in overcoming these obstacles. We will show that the same behavioral and institutional factors that help explain savings behavior are also important in understanding 1) how families handle the process of decumulation once retirement commences and 2) why there seems to be so little demand to annuitize wealth at retirement.

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 25 (2011)
Issue (Month): 4 (Fall)
Pages: 143-64

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:25:y:2011:i:4:p:143-64
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.25.4.143
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  1. Luc Behaghel & David M. Blau, 2012. "Framing Social Security Reform: Behavioral Responses to Changes in the Full Retirement Age," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 4(4), pages 41-67, November.
  2. Andrew G. Biggs, 2011. "Social Security," Books, American Enterprise Institute, number 6033, September.
  3. David A. Wise, 2004. "Introduction to "Perspectives on the Economics of Aging"," NBER Chapters, in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 1-16 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Mullainathan, Sendhil & Brown, Jeffrey R. & Kling, Jeffrey R. & Wrobel, Marian Vaillant, 2008. "Why Don't People Insure Late Life Consumption? A Framing Explanation of the Under-Annuitization Puzzle," Scholarly Articles 2799056, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  5. Saul Pleeter & John T. Warner, 2001. "The Personal Discount Rate: Evidence from Military Downsizing Programs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 33-53, March.
  6. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L & Thaler, Richard H, 1990. "Experimental Tests of the Endowment Effect and the Coase Theorem," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(6), pages 1325-48, December.
  7. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-91, March.
  8. David A. Wise, 2004. "Perspectives on the Economics of Aging," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number wise04-1, December.
  9. Tversky, Amos & Kahneman, Daniel, 1992. " Advances in Prospect Theory: Cumulative Representation of Uncertainty," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 5(4), pages 297-323, October.
  10. repec:aei:rpbook:24949 is not listed on IDEAS
  11. John Chalmers & Jonathan Reuter, 2012. "How Do Retirees Value Life Annuities? Evidence from Public Employees," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 25(8), pages 2601-2634.
  12. Luc Behaghel & David M. Blau, 2012. "Framing Social Security Reform: Behavioral Responses to Changes in the Full Retirement Age," PSE - Labex "OSE-Ouvrir la Science Economique" hal-00772844, HAL.
  13. Lee Lockwood, 2012. "Bequest Motives and the Annuity Puzzle," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 15(2), pages 226-243, April.
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