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Pensions in the 2000s: the Lost Decade?

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  • Edward N. Wolff

Abstract

One of the most dramatic changes in the retirement income system over the last three decades has been a decline in traditional defined benefit (DB) pension plans and a corresponding rise in defined contribution (DC) pensions. Have workers benefited from this change? Using data from the Survey of Consumer Finances, I find that after robust gains in the 1980s and 1990s, pension wealth experienced a marked slowdown in growth from 2001 to 2007. Projections to 2009 indicate no increase in pension wealth from 2001 to 2009. Retirement wealth is also found to offset the inequality in standard household net worth. However, I find that pensions had a weaker offsetting effect on wealth inequality in 2007 than in 1989. As a result, whereas standard net worth inequality showed little change from 1989 to 2007, the inequality of private augmented wealth (the sum of pension wealth and net worth) did increase over this period. These results hold up even when Social Security wealth and employer contributions to DC plans are included in the measure of wealth and when adjustments are made for future tax liabilities on retirement wealth.

Suggested Citation

  • Edward N. Wolff, 2011. "Pensions in the 2000s: the Lost Decade?," NBER Working Papers 16991, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16991
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    Cited by:

    1. Alan L. Gustman & Thomas L. Steinmeier & Nahid Tabatabai, 2011. "How Did the Recession of 2007-2009 Affect the Wealth and Retirement of the Near Retirement Age Population in the Health and Retirement Study?," NBER Working Papers 17547, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • J32 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Nonwage Labor Costs and Benefits; Retirement Plans; Private Pensions

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