Research & Analysis by Alan L. Gustman
Social Security Research at the University of Michigan Retirement and Disability Research Center
In 1998, the Social Security Administration established the Retirement Research Consortium to encourage research on topics related to Social Security and the well-being of older Americans, and to foster communication between the academic and policy communities. The Michigan Retirement Research Center (MRRC) participated in the Consortium from its inception until 2019, when the MRRC expanded and became the Michigan Retirement and Disability Research Center. This article surveys a selection of the MRRC's output over its second 10 years (2008–2017), summarizes its innovative use of new data sources, and highlights several key themes in the center's research contributions.
The Social Security Windfall Elimination and Government Pension Offset Provisions for Public Employees in the Health and Retirement Study
This article examines the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset. These provisions reduce the Social Security benefits of workers (and the resulting benefits of their spouses) if the prime beneficiary worked in “noncovered” employment (in which Social Security payroll taxes were not paid) and the noncovered job provided a pension, or if the spouse or survivor earned a pension from noncovered work. Using Health and Retirement Study data uniquely suited to the analysis, the authors calculate the household-level average lifetime benefit reductions resulting from these provisions and examine them in the context of lifetime Social Security income, pension income, and total wealth. The analysis also isolates the effects of pensions from noncovered employment on benefit adjustments and wealth.
How Did the Recession of 2007–2009 Affect the Wealth and Retirement of the Near Retirement Age Population in the Health and Retirement Study?
This article uses household wealth and labor market data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to investigate how the recent "Great Recession" has affected the wealth and retirement of the Early Boomer cohort, those in the population who were just approaching retirement age at the beginning of the recession. The retirement wealth of people aged 53–58 before the onset of the recession in 2006 declined by a relatively modest 2.8 percent by 2010. For members of older cohorts, wealth had increased by about 5 percent over a comparable age span. The wealth holdings of poorer households were least affected by the recession. Relative losses were greatest for those who initially had the highest wealth when the recession began. The retirement behavior of the Early Boomer cohort looks similar, at least to date, to the behavior observed for members of older cohorts at comparable ages.
The Growth in Social Security Benefits Among the Retirement-Age Population from Increases in the Cap on Covered Earnings
This article investigates how raising the maximum level of earnings subject to the Social Security payroll tax leads to the "leakage" of portions of the additional revenue into higher benefit payments. Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, the authors simulate the effects of changes in maximum taxable earnings for cohorts approaching retirement age over a 24-year period. They find, roughly, that almost half of the additional tax revenue from having raised the maximum earnings subject to the payroll tax has leaked into higher benefits.
Social Security Research at the Michigan Retirement Research Center
The Office of Retirement and Disability Policy at the Social Security Administration created the Retirement Research Consortium in 1998 to encourage research on topics related to Social Security and the well-being of older Americans, and to foster communication between the academic and policy communities. The Michigan Retirement Research Center (MRRC) has participated in the Consortium since its inception. This article surveys a selection of the MRRC's output over its first 10 years and highlights several themes in the Center's ongoing research.
Retirement and Wealth
This article analyzes the relationship between retirement and wealth. Using data from the first four waves of the longitudinal Health and Retirement Study—a cohort of individuals born from 1931 to 1941—we estimate reduced-form retirement and wealth equations. Our results show that those who retire earlier do not necessarily save more and that even if one's primary interest is in the relationship between Social Security policy and the decision to retire, it is important to incorporate saving behavior and other key decisions into the analysis.
Retirement Outcomes in the Health and Retirement Study
This study examines retirement outcomes in the first four waves of the 1992–1998 Health and Retirement Study (HRS). The article compares outcomes under alternative definitions of retirement, describes differences in outcomes among demographic groups, compares retirement dynamics based on self-reported retirement status, and compares retirement flows in the 1990s and the 1970s and between cohorts of the HRS. Among other findings, measured retirement is seen to differ, sometimes substantially, with the definition of retirement used among the various groups analyzed.