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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Erik Hurst, 2008. "The Retirement of a Consumption Puzzle," NBER Working Papers 13789, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13789
    Note: AG EFG LS PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Banks, James & Blundell, Richard & Tanner, Sarah, 1998. "Is There a Retirement-Savings Puzzle?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(4), pages 769-788, September.
    2. Fisher, Jonathan D. & Johnson, David S. & Marchand, Joseph & Smeeding, Timothy M. & Torrey, Barbara Boyle, 2008. "The retirement consumption conundrum: Evidence from a consumption survey," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 99(3), pages 482-485, June.
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    4. Steven J. Haider & Melvin Stephens, 2007. "Is There a Retirement-Consumption Puzzle? Evidence Using Subjective Retirement Expectations," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(2), pages 247-264, May.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    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. Schwerdt, Guido, 2005. "Why does consumption fall at retirement? Evidence from Germany," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 89(3), pages 300-305, December.
    9. 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 130-148, March.
    10. Raffaelle Miniaci & Chiara Monfardini & Guglielmo Weber, 2003. "Is there a retirement consumption puzzle in Italy?," IFS Working Papers W03/14, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    11. Michael D. Hurd & Susann Rohwedder, 2006. "Some Answers to the Retirement-Consumption Puzzle," NBER Working Papers 12057, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2004. "Consumption vs. Expenditure," NBER Working Papers 10307, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. 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.
    14. 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.
    15. John Karl Scholz & Ananth Seshadri & Surachai Khitatrakun, 2006. "Are Americans Saving "Optimally" for Retirement?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(4), pages 607-643, August.
    16. 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.
    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. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2013. "Deconstructing Life Cycle Expenditure," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 121(3), pages 437-492.
    19. 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 188-194, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Erich Battistin & Agar Brugiavini & Enrico Rettore & Guglielmo Weber, 2009. "The Retirement Consumption Puzzle: Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Approach," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(5), pages 2209-2226, December.
    2. Nivorozhkina, Ludmila & Nivorozhkin, Anton & Abazieva, Kamilla, 2010. "Drop in consumption associated with retirement. The regression discontinuity design approach," Applied Econometrics, Publishing House "SINERGIA PRESS", vol. 19(3), pages 112-126.
    3. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2013. "Deconstructing Life Cycle Expenditure," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 121(3), pages 437-492.
    4. Elena Stancanelli & Arthur Van Soest, 2012. "Retirement and Home Production: A Regression Discontinuity Approach," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(3), pages 600-605, May.
    5. Orazio P. Attanasio & Guglielmo Weber, 2010. "Consumption and Saving: Models of Intertemporal Allocation and Their Implications for Public Policy," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 48(3), pages 693-751, September.
    6. Kyureghian, Gayaneh & Soler, Louis-Georges, 2016. "Life Cycle Consumption of Food: Evidence from French Data," 2016 Annual Meeting, July 31-August 2, 2016, Boston, Massachusetts 236785, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    7. Yingying Dong, 2012. "Regression Discontinuity Applications with Rounding Errors in the Running Variable," Working Papers 111206, University of California-Irvine, Department of Economics.
    8. Bonsang, Eric & van Soest, Arthur, 2015. "Home Production and Retirement in Couples: A Panel Data Analysis," IZA Discussion Papers 9156, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    9. Fe, Eduardo & Hollingsworth, Bruce, 2012. "Estimating the eect of retirement on mental health via panel discontinuity designs," MPRA Paper 38162, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    10. Parsons, Donald O., 2016. "Moral-Hazard-Free First-Best Unemployment Insurance," IZA Discussion Papers 9824, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    11. Lachowska, Marta & Myck, Michal, 2015. "The Effect of Public Pension Wealth on Saving and Expenditure," IZA Discussion Papers 8895, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    12. Nicole Maestas & Kathleen J. Mullen & David Powell, 2016. "The Effect of Population Aging on Economic Growth, the Labor Force and Productivity," NBER Working Papers 22452, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Jonathan Fisher & Joseph Marchand, 2014. "Does the retirement consumption puzzle differ across the distribution?," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 12(2), pages 279-296, June.
    14. repec:eee:macchp:v2-203 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Stephens, Melvin & Unayama, Takashi, 2012. "The impact of retirement on household consumption in Japan," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 62-83.
    16. Li, Hongbin & Shi, Xinzheng & Wu, Binzhen, 2016. "The retirement consumption puzzle revisited: Evidence from the mandatory retirement policy in China," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(3), pages 623-637.
    17. Mark van Duijn & Maarten Lindeboom & Mauro Mastrogiacomo & M. Lundborg, 2009. "Pension plans and the retirement replacement rates in the Netherlands," CPB Discussion Paper 118, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
    18. Toshiyuki Uemura & Yoshimi Adachi & Tomoki Kitamura, 2017. "Effects of Individual Resident Tax on the Consumption of Near-Retired Households in Japan," Discussion Paper Series 161, School of Economics, Kwansei Gakuin University, revised May 2017.
    19. Peter Levell, 2014. "Revealed preference and consumption behaviour at retirement," IFS Working Papers W14/29, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    20. Yingying Dong & Dennis Yang, 2016. "Mandatory Retirement and the Consumption Puzzle: Prices Decline or Quantities Decline?," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 16-251, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
    21. Kilponen, Juha & Vilmunen, Jouko & Vähämaa, Oskari, 2013. "Estimating intertemporal elasticity of substitution in a sticky price model," Research Discussion Papers 9/2013, Bank of Finland.
    22. Xu, Yan, 2017. "Essays on preference formation and home production," Other publications TiSEM b028fd7e-53ba-4ff6-97eb-4, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    23. María José Luengo-Prado & Almudena Sevilla-Sanz, 2010. "Consumption, retirement and life-cycle prices: Evidence from Spain," Working Papers 2010-18, Instituto Madrileño de Estudios Avanzados (IMDEA) Ciencias Sociales.
    24. Garry F. Barrett & Matthew Brzozowski, 2010. "Involuntary Retirement and the Resolution of the Retirement-Consumption Puzzle: Evidence from Australia," Social and Economic Dimensions of an Aging Population Research Papers 275, McMaster University.
    25. Raffaele Miniaci & Chiara Monfardini & Guglielmo Weber, 2010. "How does consumption change upon retirement?," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 38(2), pages 257-280, April.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D11 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Theory
    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • J26 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Retirement; Retirement Policies

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