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How Do the Elderly Form Expectations? An Analysis of Responses to New Information

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  • B. Douglas Bernheim

Abstract

In this paper, I outline and test a simple theory that describes the evolution of expectations concerning social security benefits during the pre-retirement period. After correcting for the presences of measurement error, I obtain results that are consistent with this theory: expectations appear to evolve as a random walk, and innovations in this process are unrelated to previously available information. I also estimate responses of expectations to the arrival of new information. Although previous research indicates that individuals do not form expectations on the basis of all available information (and in particular ignore much of the information contained in concurrent statutory entitlements to social security benefits), responses to new information during the period immediately preceding retirement appear to be highly rational. The bulk of information affects the evolution of expectations only through its impact on actual benefit calculations. Furthermore, the data support the view that individuals form accurate assessments of the ultimate impact of new information on actual benefits.

Suggested Citation

  • B. Douglas Bernheim, 1988. "How Do the Elderly Form Expectations? An Analysis of Responses to New Information," NBER Working Papers 2719, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2719
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    1. B. Douglas Bernheim, 1987. "Social Security Benefits: An Empirical Study of Expectations and Realizations," NBER Working Papers 2257, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. B. Douglas Bernheim, 1989. "The Timing of Retirement: A Comparison of Expectations and Realizations," NBER Chapters,in: The Economics of Aging, pages 335-358 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Victor Zarnowitz, 1984. "Business Cycles Analysis and Expectational Survey Data," NBER Working Papers 1378, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Kathryn H. Anderson & Richard V. Burkhauser & Joseph F. Quinn, 1986. "Do Retirement Dreams Come True? The Effect of Unanticipated Events on Retirement Plans," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 39(4), pages 518-526, July.
    5. Gary Burtless, 1986. "Social Security, Unanticipated Benefit Increases, and the Timing of Retirement," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 53(5), pages 781-805.
    6. Arden Hall & Terry R. Johnson, 1980. "The Determinants of Planned Retirement Age," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 33(2), pages 241-254, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Wu, Shang & Stevens, Ralph & Thorp, Susan, 2015. "Cohort and target age effects on subjective survival probabilities: Implications for models of the retirement phase," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 55(C), pages 39-56.
    2. Hugo Benítez-Silva & Debra Dwyer & Wayne-Roy Gayle & Thomas Muench, 2008. "Expectations in micro data: rationality revisited," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 34(2), pages 381-416, March.
    3. Huynh, Kim P. & Jung, Juergen, 2015. "Subjective health expectations," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 693-711.
    4. John Rust & Christopher Phelan, 1997. "How Social Security and Medicare Affect Retirement Behavior in a World of Incomplete Markets," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(4), pages 781-832, July.
    5. Maria G. Perozek, 2005. "Using subjective expectations to forecast longevity: do survey respondents know something we don't know?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2005-68, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    6. Benitez-Silva, Hugo & Dwyer, Debra S., 2006. "Expectation formation of older married couples and the rational expectations hypothesis," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(2), pages 191-218, April.
    7. Adeline Delavande, 2008. "Measuring revisions to subjective expectations," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 36(1), pages 43-82, February.
    8. Basit Zafar, 2011. "How Do College Students Form Expectations?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(2), pages 301-348.
    9. Hugo Benítez-Silva & Debra S. Dwyer, 2003. "What to Expect when you are Expecting Rationality: Testing Rational Expectations using Micro Data," Working Papers wp037, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    10. Dickerson, Andy & Green, Francis, 2012. "Fears and realisations of employment insecurity," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 198-210.
    11. Hugo Benitez-Silva & Debra Dwyer, 2002. "Retirement Expectations Formation Using the Health and Retirement Study," Department of Economics Working Papers 02-04, Stony Brook University, Department of Economics, revised 18 Jun 2002.
    12. Ahmed Khwaja & Frank Sloan & Sukyung Chung, 2007. "The relationship between individual expectations and behaviors: Mortality expectations and smoking decisions," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 35(2), pages 179-201, October.

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