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Subjective Survival Probabilities in the Health and Retirement Study: Systematic Biases and Predictive Validity

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  • Todd Elder

    (Michigan State University)

Abstract

Recent research has demonstrated that retirement planning and well-being are closely tied to probabilistic forecasts about future events. Using longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study, I show that individuals’ subjective survival forecasts exhibit systematic biases relative to life table data. In particular, many respondents fail to account for increases in yearly mortality rates with age, both longitudinally and in crosssection. Additionally, successive cohorts of the near elderly do not appear to revise survival forecasts to match increases in longevity. Forecasting bias may merely be due to the framing of questions designed to elicit expectations, but real biases may result in suboptimal savings rates and timing of retirement. Cross-sectional variation in subjective survival forecasts also appears to reflect differences in cognitive ability across respondents, suggesting that subjective information is more relevant for some individuals than others. Despite these shortcomings, subjective mortality probabilities predict actual mortality and portfolio choice, and they contain information not found in selfreported health status or objective measures of health limitations.

Suggested Citation

  • Todd Elder, 2007. "Subjective Survival Probabilities in the Health and Retirement Study: Systematic Biases and Predictive Validity," Working Papers wp159, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  • Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp159
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    File URL: http://www.mrrc.isr.umich.edu/publications/Papers/pdf/wp159.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. John Laitner & Dan Silverman, 2005. "Estimating Life-Cycle Parameters from Consumption Behavior at Retirement," NBER Working Papers 11163, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Harris, Christopher & Laibson, David, 2001. "Dynamic Choices of Hyperbolic Consumers," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 69(4), pages 935-957, July.
    3. Charles F. Manski, 2004. "Measuring Expectations," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 72(5), pages 1329-1376, September.
    4. Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1985. "Expectations, Life Expectancy, and Economic Behavior," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 100(2), pages 389-408.
    5. David E. Bloom & David Canning & Michael Moore & Younghwan Song, 2007. "The Effect of Subjective Survival Probabilities on Retirement and Wealth in the United States," Chapters,in: Population Aging, Intergenerational Transfers and the Macroeconomy, chapter 4 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    6. Michael D. Hurd & James P. Smith & Julie M. Zissimopoulos, 2004. "The effects of subjective survival on retirement and Social Security claiming," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 19(6), pages 761-775.
    7. Michael D. Hurd & Kathleen McGarry, 2002. "The Predictive Validity of Subjective Probabilities of Survival," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(482), pages 966-985, October.
    8. Lee Lillard & Robert J. Willis, 2001. "Cognition and Wealth: The Importance of Probabilistic Thinking," Working Papers wp007, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
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    Cited by:

    1. Anikó Bíró, 2013. "Subjective mortality hazard shocks and the adjustment of consumption expenditures," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 26(4), pages 1379-1408, October.
    2. Thomas Post & Katja Hanewald, 2010. "Stochastic Mortality, Subjective Survival Expectations, and Individual Saving Behavior," SFB 649 Discussion Papers SFB649DP2010-040, Sonderforschungsbereich 649, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.
    3. Huynh, Kim P. & Jung, Juergen, 2015. "Subjective health expectations," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 693-711.
    4. Adeline Delavande & Susann Rohwedder, 2008. "Differential Mortality in Europe and the U.S. Estimates Based on Subjective Probabilities of Survival," Working Papers 613, RAND Corporation.
    5. Owen O'Donnell & Federica Teppa & Eddy van Doorslaer, 2008. "Can subjective survival expectations explain retirement behaviour?," DNB Working Papers 188, Netherlands Central Bank, Research Department.
    6. Adeline Delavande & Jinkook Lee & Seetha Menon, 2017. "Eliciting Survival Expectations of the Elderly in Low-Income Countries: Evidence From India," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 54(2), pages 673-699, April.
    7. Adeline Delavande & Susann Rohwedder, 2011. "Differential Survival in Europe and the United States: Estimates Based on Subjective Probabilities of Survival," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 48(4), pages 1377-1400, November.

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