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Some Answers to The Retirement-Consumption Puzzle

  • Michael Hurd
  • Susann Rohwedder

The simple one-good model of life-cycle consumption requires "consumption smoothing." According to previous results based on partial spending and on synthetic panels, British and U.S. households apparently reduce consumption at retirement. The reduction cannot be explained by the simple one-good life-cycle model, so it has been referred to as the retirement-consumption puzzle. An interpretation is that at retirement individuals discover they have fewer economic resources than they had anticipated prior to retirement, and as a consequence reduce consumption. This interpretation challenges the life-cycle model where consumers are assumed to be forward-looking. Using panel data, we find that prior to retirement workers anticipated on average a decline of 13.3% in spending and after retirement they recollected a decline of 12.9%: widespread surprise is not the explanation for the retirement-consumption puzzle. Workers with substantial wealth both anticipated and recollected a decline. Therefore, for many workers the decline is not necessitated by the fall in income that accompanies retirement. Poor health is associated with above-average declines. At retirement time spent in activities that could substitute for market-purchased goods increases. Apparently a number of factors contribute to the decline in spending, which, for most of the population, can be accommodated in conventional models of economic behavior.

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Paper provided by RAND Corporation Publications Department in its series Working Papers with number 342.

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Length: 30 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ran:wpaper:342
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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. John P. Rust, 1990. "Behavior of Male Workers at the End of the Life Cycle: An Empirical Analysis of States and Controls," NBER Chapters, in: Issues in the Economics of Aging, pages 317-382 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. David M. Blau, 2008. "Retirement and Consumption in a Life Cycle Model," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26, pages 35-71.
  5. Raffaele Miniaci & Chiara Monfardini & Guglielmo Weber, 2003. "Is there a retirement consumption puzzle in Italy?," IFS Working Papers W03/14, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  6. B. Douglas Bernheim & Jonathan Skinner & Steven Weinberg, 1997. "What Accounts for the Variation in Retirement Wealth Among U.S. Households?," Working Papers 97035, Stanford University, Department of Economics.
  7. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2005. "Lifecycle Prices and Production," NBER Working Papers 11601, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. 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.
  9. James Banks & Richard Blundell & Sarah Tanner, 1995. "Is there a retirement-savings puzzle?," IFS Working Papers W95/04, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  10. Michael D. Hurd, 1993. "The Effect of Labor Market Rigidities on the Labor Force Behavior of Older Workers," NBER Working Papers 4462, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Mark Aguiar & Erik Hurst, 2004. "Consumption vs. Expenditure," NBER Working Papers 10307, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Sarah Smith, 2004. "Can the retirement consumption puzzle be solved?," IFS Working Papers W04/07, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  13. 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.
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