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Involuntary Retirement and the Resolution of the Retirement-Consumption Puzzle: Evidence from Australia

  • Garry F. Barrett
  • Matthew Brzozowski

A substantial body of international research has shown that household expenditure on food and non-durables significantly decreases at the time of retirement -- a finding that is inconsistent with the standard life-cycle model of consumption if retirement is an anticipated event. This fall in expenditure has become known as the `retirement- consumption puzzle.' We analyze rich Australian panel data to assess the Australian evidence on the puzzle. We find strong evidence of a fall in expenditures on groceries, food consumed at home and outside meals with retirement. The observed decline in expenditure is explained by a subset of households experiencing an unanticipated wealth shock, such as a major health event or long-term job loss, at the time of retirement. This finding is corroborated by an analysis of alternative measures of household well-being, including indicators of financial hardship, and self-reported financial and life satisfaction. For the majority of households retirement is anticipated and there is no decline in economic welfare at retirement. However, for an important minority, retirement is `involuntary' and these households experience a marked decline across all indicators of economic well-being.

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Paper provided by McMaster University in its series Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population Research Papers with number 275.

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Length: 42 pages
Date of creation: Oct 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:mcm:sedapp:275
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  1. Martin Browning & Thomas F. Crossley & Guglielmo Weber, 2002. "Asking Consumption Questions in General Purpose Surveys," Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population Research Papers 77, McMaster University.
  2. Banks, James & Blundell, Richard & Tanner, Sarah, 1998. "Is There a Retirement-Savings Puzzle?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(4), pages 769-88, September.
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  4. Erik Hurst, 2008. "The Retirement of a Consumption Puzzle," NBER Working Papers 13789, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Naeem Ahmed & Matthew Brzozowski & Thomas F. Crossley, 2005. "Measurement Errors in Recall Food Expenditure Data," Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population Research Papers 133, McMaster University.
  6. Michael Hurd & Susann Rohwedder, 2003. "The Retirement-Consumption Puzzle: Anticipated and Actual Declines in Spending at Retirement," NBER Working Papers 9586, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. B. Douglas Bernheim & Jonathan Skinner & Steven Weinberg, 1997. "What Accounts for the Variation in Retirement Wealth Among U.S. Households?," Working Papers 97035, Stanford University, Department of Economics.
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  17. Steven Haider & Melvin Stephens Jr., 2004. "Is There a Retirement-Consumption Puzzle? Evidence Using Subjective Retirement Expectations," NBER Working Papers 10257, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Rafael Di Tella & Robert MacCulloch, 2006. "Some Uses of Happiness Data in Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(1), pages 25-46, Winter.
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