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How Much Income Do Retirees Actually Have? Evaluating the Evidence from Five National Datasets


  • Anqi Chen
  • Alicia H. Munnell
  • Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher


Recent research by Bee and Mitchell (2017) has refocused attention on the fact that the Current Population Survey (CPS) underestimates retirement income. In the wake of this study, some observers have questioned whether other surveys more frequently used by retirement researchers also understate retirement income and, if so, whether prior research suggesting that many households are unprepared for retirement is accurate. This paper addresses both questions by examining retirement income data from the CPS and four other surveys: 1) the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF); 2) the Health and Retirement Study (HRS); 3) the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics (PSID); and 4) the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). The paper compares the income measures from each survey to administrative data from tax and Social Security records, both in aggregate and across the income distribution. It then uses a common measure of retirement income adequacy, the replacement rate, to assess overall household preparedness for retirement.

Suggested Citation

  • Anqi Chen & Alicia H. Munnell & Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher, 2018. "How Much Income Do Retirees Actually Have? Evaluating the Evidence from Five National Datasets," Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College wp2018-14, Center for Retirement Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:crr:crrwps:wp2018-14

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    Cited by:

    1. Mitchell, Olivia S. & Clark, Robert L. & Lusardi, Annamaria, 2022. "Income trajectories in later life: Longitudinal evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," The Journal of the Economics of Ageing, Elsevier, vol. 22(C).
    2. Thomas L. Hungerford, 2020. "The Course of Income Inequality as a Cohort Ages into Old-Age," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 18(1), pages 71-90, March.
    3. Gale, William & Gelfond, Hilary & Fichtner, Jason, 2018. "How Will Retirement Saving Change by 2050? Prospects for the Millennial Generation," MPRA Paper 99196, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Ummul Ruthbah, 2022. "The retirement puzzle," Australian Journal of Management, Australian School of Business, vol. 47(2), pages 342-367, May.
    5. Begley, Jaclene & Chan, Sewin, 2022. "Next to kin: How children influence the residential mobility decisions of older adults," The Journal of the Economics of Ageing, Elsevier, vol. 23(C).
    6. Stipica Mudrazija & Barbara A. Butrica, 2023. "The dynamic nature of poverty and food insecurity among older adults: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 45(1), pages 262-279, March.
    7. Beirne, Keelan & Nolan, Anne & Roantree, Barra, 2020. "Income adequacy in retirement: Evidence from the Irish longitudinal study on ageing (TILDA)," Research Series, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), number RS107, June.

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