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Pensions and the Distribution of Wealth

In: Frontiers in the Economics of Aging

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  • Kathleen M. McGarry
  • Andrew Davenport

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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Suggested Citation

  • Kathleen M. McGarry & Andrew Davenport, 1998. "Pensions and the Distribution of Wealth," NBER Chapters, in: Frontiers in the Economics of Aging, pages 463-486, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:7310
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. William E. Even & David A. Macpherson, 1994. "Why Did Male Pension Coverage Decline in the 1980s?," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 47(3), pages 439-453, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Wolff, Edward N., 2007. "The retirement wealth of the baby boom generation," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 1-40, January.
    2. 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.
    3. Edward N. Wolff, 2011. "Pensions in the 2000s: the Lost Decade?," NBER Working Papers 16991, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Edward N. Wolff, 2005. "Is the Equalizing Effect of Retirement Wealth Wearing Off?," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_420, Levy Economics Institute.
    5. 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.
    6. Carlo Mazzaferro & Stefano Toso, 2009. "The Distribution Of Total Wealth In Italy: 1991–2002," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 55(3), pages 779-802, September.
    7. 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.).
    8. Fligstein, Neil & Shin, Taek-Jin, 2003. "The shareholder value society: A review of the changes in working conditions and inequality in the U.S., 1976-2000," Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper Series qt0z85d717, Institute of Industrial Relations, UC Berkeley.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution

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