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The Retirement of a Consumption Puzzle

  • Erik Hurst

This paper summarizes five facts that have emerged from the recent literature on consumption behavior during retirement. Collectively, the recent literature has shown that there is no puzzle with respect to the spending patterns of most households as they transition into retirement. In particular, the literature has shown that there is substantial heterogeneity in spending changes at retirement across consumption categories. The declines in spending during retirement for the average household are limited to the categories of food and work related expenses. Spending in nearly all other categories of non-durable expenditure remains constant or increases. Moreover, even though food spending declines during retirement, actual food intake remains constant. The literature also shows that there is substantial heterogeneity across households in the change in expenditure associated with retirement. Much of this heterogeneity, however, can be explained by households involuntarily retiring due to deteriorating health. Overall, the literature shows that the standard model of lifecycle consumption augmented with home production and uncertain health shocks does well in explaining the consumption patterns of most households as they transition into retirement.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13789.

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Date of creation: Feb 2008
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as “Understanding Consumption in Retirement: Recent Developments”, in Recalibrating Retirement Spending and Saving (eds, John Ameriks and Olivia Mitchell), Oxford University Press, September 2008.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13789
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  1. Michael Hurd & Susann Rohwedder, 2003. "The Retirement-Consumption Puzzle: Anticipated and Actual Declines in Spending at Retirement," Working Papers 03-12, RAND Corporation Publications Department.
  2. Mark B. McClellan, 1998. "Health Events, Health Insurance, and Labor Supply: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Survey," NBER Chapters, in: Frontiers in the Economics of Aging, pages 301-350 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Schwerdt, Guido, 2005. "Why does consumption fall at retirement? Evidence from Germany," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 89(3), pages 300-305, December.
  4. 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.
  5. Erik Hurst, 2004. "Grasshoppers, Ants and Pre-Retirement Wealth: A Test of Permanent Income Consumers," Working Papers wp088, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  6. 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.
  7. Hamermesh, Daniel S, 1984. "Consumption during Retirement: The Missing Link in the Life Cycle," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 66(1), pages 1-7, February.
  8. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2008. "Deconstructing Lifecycle Expenditure," NBER Working Papers 13893, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. John Ameriks & Andrew Caplin & John Leahy, 2007. "Retirement Consumption: Insights from a Survey," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(2), pages 265-274, May.
  10. John Karl Scholz & Ananth Seshadri & Surachai Khitatrakun, 2004. "Are Americans Saving "Optimally" for Retirement?," NBER Working Papers 10260, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Heckman, James J, 1974. "Life Cycle Consumption and Labor Supply: An Explanation of the Relationship Between Income and Consumption Over the Life Cycle," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(1), pages 188-94, March.
  12. John Laitner & Dan Silverman, 2005. "Estimating Life—Cycle Parameters from Consumption Behavior at Retirement”," Working Papers wp099, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  13. Michael D. Hurd & Susann Rohwedder, 2006. "Some Answers to the Retirement-Consumption Puzzle," NBER Working Papers 12057, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Sarah Smith, 2006. "The Retirement-Consumption Puzzle and Involuntary Early Retirement: Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 116(510), pages C130-C148, 03.
  15. Johnathan Fisher & David S. Johnson & Joseph Marchand & Timothy M. Smeeding & Barbara Boyle Torrey, 2005. "The Retirement Consumption Conundrum: Evidence from a Consumption Survey," Working Papers, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College wp2005-14, Center for Retirement Research, revised Dec 2005.
  16. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2004. "Consumption vs. Expenditure," NBER Working Papers 10307, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. B. Douglas Bernheim & Jonathan Skinner & Steven Weinberg, 2001. "What Accounts for the Variation in Retirement Wealth among U.S. Households?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(4), pages 832-857, September.
  18. Raffaele Miniaci & Chiara Monfardini & Guglielmo Weber, 2003. "Is there a retirement consumption puzzle in Italy?," IFS Working Papers W03/14, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  19. Lundberg, Shelly & Startza, Richard & Stillman, Steven, 2003. "The retirement-consumption puzzle: a marital bargaining approach," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(5-6), pages 1199-1218, May.
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