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Economic Determinants of the Optimal Retirement Age: An Empirical Investigation

  • Gary S. Fields
  • Olivia S. Mitchell

This paper examines how the structure of earnings and pension opportunities affects retirement behavior. We use a life cycle model of labor supply, paying special attention to the institutional features of private pensions and Social Security benefits. This theoretical formulation is used to develop comparative dynamic pre- dictions and to guide empirical modeling. Data from a new survey of workers and their income alternatives are used to implement the empirical model. Along the way, we highlight a number of interesting and little known facts about older workers' income. Contrary to popular opinion we find that private pensions are not always actuarially neutral; Social Security benefits do not typically decline (in present value terms) the longer retirement is deferred; and for many people, retirement income approaches and even exceeds net labor income. On the basis of empirical estimates of retirement parameters, we conclude that (1) people with higher base incomes retire earlier, and (2) those who have more to gain by postponing retirement, retire later. These findings are relevant to proposed reforms of the Social Security system as well as pension programs.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 0876.

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Date of creation: Apr 1982
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Fields, Gary S. and Olivia S. Mitchell. "Economic Determinants of the Optimal Retirement Age: An Empirical Investigation." Journal of Human Resources, Vol. 19, (Winter 1984).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:0876
Note: LS
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  1. Sheshinski, Eytan, 1978. "A model of social security and retirement decisions," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 337-360, December.
  2. Jeremy I. Bulow, 1979. "Analysis of Pension Funding Under Erisa," NBER Working Papers 0402, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Burtless, Gary & Hausman, Jerry, 1982. "`Double dipping': the combined effects of social security and civil service pensions on employee retirement," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages 139-159, July.
  4. G. Burtless & J. A. Hausman, 1977. "The Effect of Taxation on Labor Supply: Evaluating the Gary Negative Income Tax Experiment," Working papers 211, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  5. Michael J. Boskin & Michael D. Hurd, 1977. "The Effect of Social Security on Early Retirement," NBER Working Papers 0204, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Olivia S. Mitchell & Gary S. Fields, 1981. "The Effects of Pensions and Earnings on Retirement: A Review Essay," NBER Working Papers 0772, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Feldstein, Martin S, 1974. "Social Security, Induced Retirement, and Aggregate Capital Accumulation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(5), pages 905-26, Sept./Oct.
  8. Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier, 1981. "Partial Retirement and the Analysis of Retirement Behavior," NBER Working Papers 0763, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Roger H. Gordon & Alan S. Blinder, 1980. "Market wages, reservation wages, and retirement decisions," NBER Chapters, in: Econometric Studies in Public Finance, pages 277-308 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. John B. Burbidge & A. Leslie Robb, 1980. "Pensions and Retirement Behaviour," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 13(3), pages 421-37, August.
  11. Richard V. Burkhauser, 1979. "The Pension Acceptance Decision of Older Workers," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 14(1), pages 63-75.
  12. Zabalza, A. & Pissarides, C. & Barton, M., 1980. "Social security and the choice between full-time work, part-time work and retirement," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(2), pages 245-276, October.
  13. Crawford, Vincent P & Lilien, David M, 1981. "Social Security and the Retirement Decision," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 96(3), pages 505-29, August.
  14. Alan S. Blinder & Roger H. Gordon & Donald E. Wise, 1980. "Reconsidering the Work Disincentive Effects of Social Security," NBER Working Papers 0562, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Heckman, James J & Macurdy, Thomas E, 1980. "A Life Cycle Model of Female Labour Supply," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(1), pages 47-74, January.
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