Research and Analysis by Irena Dushi
Social Security benefits are the most important source of U.S. retirement income. Over time, however, trends in employer-provided pension offerings, societal changes, and Social Security program rule changes have altered the distribution of income by source among the aged population. In this article, the authors examine the reliance on Social Security benefits of people aged 65 or older using data from the Current Population Survey, the Survey of Income and Program Participation, and the Health and Retirement Study.
Contributory Retirement Saving Plans: Differences Across Earnings Groups and Implications for Retirement Security
This article examines how savings in defined contribution (DC) retirement plans vary across the earnings distribution. Specifically, the authors investigate the extent of an earnings gradient in access to, participation in, and levels of contribution to DC plans. Using a nationally representative sample of Survey of Income and Program Participation respondents linked to data from their W-2 tax records, the authors find that DC plan access, participation, and contributions increase as earnings increase, even after controlling for key socioeconomic and labor-market covariates. They also find that, despite changing economic conditions, the earnings gradient changed little between 2006 and 2012.
This article provides an update of the relationship between pension plan coverage and firm size among private-sector workers, using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) for 3 years: 2006, 2009, and 2012. Following previous work, our measures of pension coverage and participation take into account, and correct for, survey-response errors in the SIPP by using information in the W-2 records regarding tax-deferred earnings to defined contribution plans. The authors' findings show that compared with 2006, the offer and participation rates of any pension plan slightly increased in 2009 and 2012. Throughout the 2006–2012 period, offer and participation rates differed substantially by firm size, whereas there was little difference in the take-up rate.
This article presents descriptive statistics on pension participation and the types of plans among married couples, using data from the 1996 and 2008 Panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation and Social Security administrative records. The findings indicate that in only 20 percent of couples, neither of the spouses participated in a pension plan; in about 10 percent of couples, the wife was the only one participating in a retirement plan; and in 37 percent of couples, the husband was the only one participating. Despite the substantial changes in pension landscape over the past decade, the findings reveal only modest changes in participation rates and in the types of plans respondents participated in between 1998 and 2009.
Using Health and Retirement Study data, the authors examine three groups of adults aged 51–56 in 1992 with different disability experiences over the following 8 years. Our analysis reveals three major findings. First, people who started and stayed nondisabled experienced stable financial security, with substantial improvement in household wealth despite substantial labor force withdrawal. Second, people who started as nondisabled but suffered a disability shock experienced a substantial increase in poverty rates and a sharp decline in median incomes. Average earnings loss was the greatest for that group, with public and private benefits replacing less than half of the loss, whereas the reduction in private health insurance coverage was more than alleviated by the increase in public health insurance coverage. Third, people who started and stayed disabled were behind at the baseline and have fallen further behind on most measures. An important exception is substantial improvement in health insurance coverage because of public safety nets.
The authors investigate the extent of changes in workers' participation and contributions to defined contribution (DC) plans during the Great Recession of 2007–2009. Using longitudinal information from Social Security W-2 tax records matched to a nationally representative sample of respondents from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, they find that the recent economic downturn had a considerable impact on workers' participation and contributions to DC plans. A sizable segment of 2007 participants (39 percent) decreased their contributions to DC plans by more than 10 percent during the Great Recession. The findings also highlight the interrelationship between the dynamics in DC contributions and earnings changes.
Defined Contribution Pension Participation and Contributions by Earnings Levels Using Administrative Data
This article examines the relationship between earnings levels and participation and contribution rates in defined contribution (DC) retirement plans. Specifically, the article estimates DC plan participation and contribution rates in 2006 both by the worker's current earnings and by the annual average of real earnings over the 10-year period 1997–2006. Using these two different measures of earnings allows us to assess whether employing a longer period of earnings, such as a decade, provides a better representation of pension outcomes than the short-term measure of current earnings.
Of particular interest in this article is the relationship between firm size and pension coverage and participation because small businesses tend to be less likely to offer retirement benefits to their employees than do large businesses. This relationship is particularly important given the current administration's retirement proposals to create automatic individual retirement accounts. Obviously, accurate information is important not only in formulating retirement income security policies that target workers without retirement plan coverage, but also to assess the impact of such policies on workers' retirement plan participation.
The Impact of Response Error on Participation Rates and Contributions to Defined Contribution Pension Plans
The accuracy of information about coverage and contributions to defined contribution (DC) pension plans is important in understanding the economic well-being of future retirees because these plans are an increasingly important part of retirement income security. Using data from the 1996 and 2004 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) merged with information from W-2 tax records, we examine the extent to which estimated participation rates and contribution amounts to DC plans derived from SIPP reports differ from estimates obtained from tax-deferred contributions in the W-2 tax records.
This article uses different sources of United States data to focus on the retirement resources of women aged 55–64 in 2004, 1994, and 1984. Notable changes have occurred with women's pathways into retirement resulting from increased education and lifetime work experience. There appear marked cohort differences in potential retirement outcomes.
This article examines pension participation and nonpension net worth of two cohorts of near retirees. Particularly, the authors look at people born in 1933 through 1939 who were ages 55–61 in 1994, and the more recent cohort consisting of people of the same age in 2004 who were born in 1943 through 1949. Data are from the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal, nationally representative survey of older Americans.