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Social security, pensions and retirement behaviour within the family


  • Alan L. Gustman

    (Department of Economics, Dartmouth College, USA)

  • Thomas L. Steinmeier

    (Department of Economics, Texas Tech University, USA)


This paper estimates a structural model of family retirement using US data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). It provides further insight into household retirement decision making and the reasons for interdependence in the retirement decisions of each spouse. Improvements in HRS data and matched employer provided pension histories allow more precise identification of key parameters governing interdependent behaviour within the household. In an earlier study we found that interdependence was due to preferences rather than coordination of retirement incentives in the budget, and in particular that it is not a correlation in preferences, but the appearance of the spouse's retirement status in the husband's and wife's utility function that is largely responsible for coordination of retirement between spouses. We now find that a measure of how much each spouse values being able to spend time in retirement with the other accounts for a good portion of that apparent interdependence. For the wife, the husband's retirement status influences her retirement decision only if she values spending time in retirement with her husband. For husbands, the effect of having the wife already retired on his retirement decision is roughly doubled if he enjoys spending time in retirement with his wife, but there is some effect even if he does not. This is consistent with our earlier findings that the husband is more influenced by having a retired spouse than the wife is. The increase in the extent of the dependence of the wife's labour supply on the husband's retirement from our past work probably is traceable to better measurement of the opportunity set facing the husband in HRS data. Once estimated, we use the model to investigate the labour supply effects of alternative social security policies, examining the effect of dividing credit for earnings evenly between spouses, or of basing social security benefits on the amounts accumulated in private accounts. Both policies change the relative importance of spouse and survivor social security benefits within the household and both raise the relative reward to work later in the life cycle. The incentives created are modest, and retirement responds accordingly. Nevertheless, at some ages, such as 65, there may be as much as a 6% increase in the old age work force under privatized accounts. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Suggested Citation

  • Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier, 2004. "Social security, pensions and retirement behaviour within the family," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 19(6), pages 723-737.
  • Handle: RePEc:jae:japmet:v:19:y:2004:i:6:p:723-737
    DOI: 10.1002/jae.753

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Berkovec, James & Stern, Steven, 1991. "Job Exit Behavior of Older Men," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(1), pages 189-210, January.
    2. Gustman, Alan L & Steinmeier, Thomas L, 1986. "A Structural Retirement Model," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 54(3), pages 555-584, May.
    3. Gustman, Alan L. & Steinmeier, Thomas L., 2001. "How effective is redistribution under the social security benefit formula?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(1), pages 1-28, October.
    4. Donna B. Gilleskie & David M. Blau, 2006. "Health insurance and retirement of married couples," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 21(7), pages 935-953.
    5. Eric French & John Bailey Jones, 2011. "The Effects of Health Insurance and Self‐Insurance on Retirement Behavior," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 79(3), pages 693-732, May.
    6. William G. Gale, 1994. "Public policies and private pension contributions," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, pages 710-734.
    7. Lumsdaine, Robin L. & Stock, James H. & Wise, David A., 1990. "Efficient windows and labor force reduction," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 131-159, November.
    8. Mitchell, Olivia S, 1988. "Worker Knowledge of Pension Provisions," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 6(1), pages 21-39, January.
    9. Gustman, Alan L & Steinmeier, Thomas L, 2000. "Retirement in Dual-Career Families: A Structural Model," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(3), pages 503-545, July.
    10. Ippolito, Richard A., 1998. "Pension Plans and Employee Performance," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 1, number 9780226384559, March.
    11. Gary S. Fields & Olivia S. Mitchell, 1984. "Retirement, Pensions, and Social Security," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262060914, January.
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    JEL classification:

    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies
    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions


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