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Mismeasurement of Pensions Before and After Retirement: The Mystery of the Disappearing Pensions with Implications for the Importance of Social Security as a Source of Retirement Support

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  • Alan L. Gustman

    (Dartmouth College)

  • Thomas L. Steinmeier

    (Texas Tech University)

  • Nahid Tabatabai

    (Dartmouth College)

Abstract

A review of the literature suggests that when pension values are measured by the wealth equivalent of promised DB pension benefits and DC balances for those approaching retirement, pensions account for more support in retirement than is suggested when their contribution is measured by incomes received directly from pension plans by those who have already retired. Estimates from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) for respondents in their early fifties suggest that pension wealth is about 82 percent as valuable as Social Security wealth. In data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), for members of the same cohort, measured when they are 65 to 69, pension incomes are about 58 percent as valuable as incomes from Social Security. Our empirical analysis uses data from the HRS to examine the reasons for these differences in the contributions of pensions as measured in income and wealth data. Key factors accounting for these difference include: a difference in methodology between surveys affecting what is included in pension income; some pension wealth "disappears" at retirement because respondents change their pension into other forms that are not counted as pension income; and the form of annuitization may influence the measure of pension income. A series of caveats notwithstanding, the bottom line is that CPS data on pension incomes received in retirement understates the full contribution pensions make to supporting retirees.

Suggested Citation

  • Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier & Nahid Tabatabai, 2013. "Mismeasurement of Pensions Before and After Retirement: The Mystery of the Disappearing Pensions with Implications for the Importance of Social Security as a Source of Retirement Support," Working Papers wp268, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  • Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp268
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    File URL: http://www.mrrc.isr.umich.edu/publications/Papers/pdf/wp268.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 2011. "The Drawdown of Personal Retirement Assets," NBER Working Papers 16675, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Axel Börsch-Supan & Tabea Bucher-Koenen & Michela Coppola & Bettina Lamla, 2015. "Savings In Times Of Demographic Change: Lessons From The German Experience," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 29(4), pages 807-829, September.
    2. Alan Gustman & Thomas Steinmeier & Nahid Tabatabai, 2016. "Distributional Effects of Means Testing Social Security: Income Versus Wealth," Working Papers id:11111, eSocialSciences.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty
    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination
    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies
    • J32 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Nonwage Labor Costs and Benefits; Retirement Plans; Private Pensions

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