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Were They Prepared for Retirement? Financial Status at Advanced Ages in the HRS and AHEAD Cohorts

In: Investigations in the Economics of Aging

Author

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  • James M. Poterba
  • Steven F. Venti
  • David A. Wise

Abstract

Many analysts have considered whether households approaching retirement age have accumulated enough assets to be well prepared for retirement. In this paper, we shift from studying household finances at the start of the retirement period, an ex ante measure of retirement preparation, to studying the asset holdings of households in their last years of life. The analysis is based on Health and Retirement Study with special attention to Asset and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old (AHEAD) cohort that was first surveyed in 1993. We consider the level of assets that households hold in the last survey wave preceding their death. We study how assets at the end of life depend on three family status pathways prior to death - (1) original one-person households in 1993, (2) persons in two-person household in 1993 with a deceased spouse in the last year observed, and (3) persons in two-person households in 1993 with the spouse alive when last observed. We find that a substantial fraction of persons die with virtually no financial assets - 46.1 percent with less than $10,000 - and many of these households also have no housing wealth and rely almost entirely on Social Security benefits for support. In addition this group is disproportionately in poor health. Based on a replacement rate comparison, many of these households may be deemed to have been well-prepared for retirement, in the sense that their income in their final years was not substantially lower than their income in their late 50s or early 60s. Yet with such low asset levels, they would have little capacity to pay for unanticipated needs such as health expenses or other financial shocks or to pay for entertainment, travel, or other activities. This raises a question of whether the replacement ratio is a sufficient statistic for the "adequacy" of retirement preparation.
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Suggested Citation

  • James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 2011. "Were They Prepared for Retirement? Financial Status at Advanced Ages in the HRS and AHEAD Cohorts," NBER Chapters,in: Investigations in the Economics of Aging, pages 21-69 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:12429
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. James Smith, 2005. "Consequences and Predictors of New Health Events," NBER Chapters,in: Analyses in the Economics of Aging, pages 213-240 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Orazio P. Attanasio & Carl Emmerson, 2003. "Mortality, Health Status, and Wealth," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 1(4), pages 821-850, June.
    3. James Smith, 2004. "Unravelling the SES health connection," IFS Working Papers W04/02, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    4. Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 2004. "Aging and Housing Equity: Another Look," NBER Chapters,in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 127-180 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Susann Rohwedder & Steven J. Haider & Michael D. Hurd, 2006. "INCREASES IN WEALTH AMONG THE ELDERLY IN THE EARLY 1990s: HOW MUCH IS DUE TO SURVEY DESIGN?," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 52(4), pages 509-524, December.
    6. John Karl Scholz & Ananth Seshadri & Surachai Khitatrakun, 2006. "Are Americans Saving "Optimally" for Retirement?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(4), pages 607-643, August.
    7. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 2011. "Family Status Transitions, Latent Health, and the Post-Retirement Evolution of Assets," NBER Chapters,in: Explorations in the Economics of Aging, pages 23-69 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. David A. Love & Paul A. Smith & Lucy C. McNair, 2008. "A New Look At The Wealth Adequacy Of Older U.S. Households," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 54(4), pages 616-642, December.
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    1. repec:eee:joecag:v:1-2:y:2013:i::p:83-89 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Börsch-Supan, A. & Härtl, K. & Leite, D.N., 2016. "Social Security and Public Insurance," Handbook of the Economics of Population Aging, Elsevier.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D14 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Saving; Personal Finance
    • D91 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making
    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination

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