Selected Research & Analysis: Retirement Income > Saving Behavior

See also related Extramural Projects.

Retirement Implications of a Low Wage Growth, Low Real Interest Rate Economy
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 80, No. 3 (released August 2020)
by Jason Scott, John B. Shoven, Sita Nataraj Slavov, and John G. Watson

Using a lifecycle model, the authors examine the implications of persistent low real interest rates and low wage growth for individuals nearing retirement. Low returns and low wage growth are found to affect welfare substantially, often producing large compensating variations. Low economywide wage growth has a much larger welfare effect than low individual wage growth, largely because the Social Security benefit formula is progressive and incorporates wage indexing. Low economywide wage growth undercuts the effects of wage indexation as average wages fall along with individual wages. Low returns raise the optimal Social Security claiming age and the marginal benefit of working longer, while low wage growth decreases the marginal benefit of working longer. Low returns also increase the relative price of consumption during retirement, suggesting that individuals may wish to reduce future consumption relative to current consumption. The authors then compare these findings with standard financial planning advice.

The Comprehensive Wealth of Older Immigrants and Natives
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 79, No. 4 (released November 2019)
by David Love and Lucie Schmidt

This article compares the retirement preparations of immigrant and native-born Americans aged 51 or older. The authors estimate the present value of future income streams in calculating measures of comprehensive wealth and an annualized equivalent. In addition to some significant differences in median annualized wealth between immigrants and natives, the authors find that the most recent waves of immigrants are more financially vulnerable in retirement than earlier immigration cohorts were at similar ages. With a decomposition analysis, the authors estimate how much of the immigrant-native wealth gap is attributable to differences in observable characteristics.

Retirement Savings Inequality: Different Effects of Earnings Shocks, Portfolio Selections, and Employer Contributions by Worker Earnings Level
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 78, No. 3 (released August 2018)
by Joelle Saad-Lessler, Teresa Ghilarducci, and Gayle L. Reznik

Changes in accumulated retirement savings, particularly in employer-sponsored defined contribution (DC) plan balances, differ by worker earnings levels. Earnings shocks, portfolio diversification, and employer contributions to workers’ DC plans affect retirement savings for lower earners more than for higher earners. The authors match Survey of Income and Program Participation data to Social Security Administration earnings records and find factors underlying the different retirement savings outcomes by earnings level beyond mere differences in earnings.

Insight into the Earned Income Tax Credit and Tax-Advantaged Retirement Savings
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 78, No. 2 (released May 2018)
by David Rogofsky, Richard E. Chard, and Joanne Yoong

Saving for retirement has traditionally been compared to a three-legged stool supported by Social Security benefits, workplace pensions, and household savings. As the prevalence of defined benefit pensions has diminished in recent decades, the importance of household savings has grown. To enable and encourage saving among lower-income Americans, policymakers have established several types of tax incentives. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides an immediate reduction in income tax liability (or a larger refund) for eligible households. Additionally, certain types of retirement saving accounts and defined contribution saving plans lower current tax liability by deferring taxation of the amounts contributed until the funds are withdrawn in retirement. Using data from the Understanding America Study, this article compares the retirement-related financial behavior and preparedness of EITC-eligible and ineligible households and examines whether EITC eligibility affects the use of tax-advantaged retirement saving plans.

Immigrants and Retirement Resources
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 74, No. 1 (released February 2014)
by Purvi Sevak and Lucie Schmidt

In this article, the authors use the Health and Retirement Study to compare retirement resources of the foreign born with those of the native born. They find that immigrants have significantly lower Social Security benefit levels than natives; however, after controlling for demographic characteristics immigrants have higher levels of net worth. The immigrant/native differential in retirement resources varies systematically by number of years in the United States.

Raising Household Saving: Does Financial Education Work?
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 72, No. 2 (released May 2012)
by William G. Gale, Benjamin H. Harris, and Ruth Levine

Financial illiteracy is prevalent in the United States, and low levels of financial literacy are associated with poor financial choices and negative economic outcomes. We examine previous work on the effect of financial education on household saving and find mixed results. Workplace financial education seminars positively affect household saving, but the size of this effect varies widely across studies. The effects of other financial education initiatives are less clear, highlighting the need for rigorous econometric evaluation of efforts to improve financial literacy.

Behavioral and Psychological Aspects of the Retirement Decision
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 71, No. 4 (released November 2011)
by Melissa A. Z. Knoll

The majority of research dealing with the retirement decision has focused on the health and wealth aspects of retirement. Research in the areas of judgment and decision making and behavioral economics suggests that there may be a number of behavioral factors that influence the retirement decision as well. This review highlights such factors and offers a unique perspective on potential determinants of retirement behavior, including anchoring and framing effects, affective forecasting, hyperbolic discounting, and the planning fallacy. The author describes findings from previous research, as well as draws novel connections between existing decision-making research and the retirement decision.

The Role of Behavioral Economics and Behavioral Decision Making in Americans' Retirement Savings Decisions
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 70, No. 4 (released November 2010)
by Melissa A. Z. Knoll

This article outlines findings from the judgment and decision making (JDM) and behavioral-economics literatures that highlight the many behavioral impediments to saving that individuals may encounter on their way to financial security. It discusses how behavioral and psychological issues, such as self-control, emotions, and choice architecture can help policymakers understand which factors, aside from purely economic ones, may affect individuals' savings behavior.

Assessing the Performance of Life-Cycle Portfolio Allocation Strategies for Retirement Saving: A Simulation Study
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 70, No. 1 (released February 2010)
by Benjamin Bridges, Robert V. Gesumaria, and Michael V. Leonesio

The investment performance of life-cycle portfolio allocation strategies is evaluated using a stochastic simulation based on historical asset returns during 1926–2008. Lifetime contribution streams to the accounts are determined using the actual earnings histories of 13,000 workers born in 1915–1942. The results are compared with those of four alternative strategies that vary in terms of investor exposure to stock and bond market risk.

Retiring in Debt? Differences between the 1995 and 2004 Near-Retiree Cohorts
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 69, No. 2 (released July 2009)
by Chris E. Anguelov and Christopher R. Tamborini

This article uses the U.S. Federal Reserve Board's Survey of Consumer Finances to examine near retirees' (aged 50 to 61) debt holdings in 1995 and 2004. Employing a variety of measures on household borrowing, our results show that near retirees in 2004—the leading edge of the baby-boom cohort—had more consumer and housing debt than their counterparts in 1995. We observe a modest increase in the median debt service and debt-to-assets ratios between the two cohorts, but no statistical difference in their respective average. Analysis of several demographic and socioeconomic subgroups reveals certain population segments, such as single female households, with significantly higher debt service ratios in 2004.

Cohort Differences in Wealth and Pension Participation of Near-Retirees
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 68, No. 3 (released December 2008)
by Irena Dushi and Howard M. Iams

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.

KiwiSaver: New Zealand's New Subsidized Retirement Savings Plans
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 67, No. 4 (released May 2008)
by Barbara E. Kritzer

On July 1, 2007, New Zealand introduced KiwiSaver, a new subsidized retirement savings plan. All new entrants to the labor force and anyone starting a new job are automatically enrolled in a plan and may opt out if they wish. Anyone younger than age 65, including the self-employed and anyone not in the labor force, may choose to set up a KiwiSaver account. The government provides tax credits for both employer and account holder contributions, a one-time tax-free payment to each account, and an annual fee subsidy to defray administrative costs.

Effective Retirement Savings Programs: Design Features and Financial Education
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 67, No. 3 (released April 2008)
by Anya Olsen and Kevin Whitman

This article provides an overview of the literature on best practices for retirement savings plan design and financial education in the workplace. Without a successful plan design, financial education will not be effective and even a well-structured plan can fail to achieve retirement savings goals without financial education. The main components of a retirement savings program that employers must consider include options for enrollment, investment choices, employer matching of contributions, and distributions over the working career and at retirement. In addition, employers control the core aspects of financial education, such as the topics covered, the delivery methods used, the frequency with which it is offered, and its general availability.

Design and Implementation Issues in Swedish Individual Pension Accounts
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 65, No. 4 (released May 2005)
by R. Kent Weaver

Sweden's new multipillar pension system includes a system of mandatory fully funded individual accounts. The Swedish system offers contributors more than 600 fund options from a variety of private-sector fund managers. However, in the most recent rounds of fund choice, more than 90 percent of new labor market entrants have not made an active choice of funds and thus have ended up in a government-sponsored default fund.

The Swedish system offers a number of lessons about implementing a mandatory individual account tier. Centralized administration keeps administrative costs down but requires considerable lead time. A very large number of fund options are likely to be offered unless strong entry barriers are in place. Engaging new labor market entrants in fund choice is likely to be difficult. A significant percentage of those making an active fund choice may choose funds that are very specialized and risky. Finally, special care must be devoted to designing a default fund and continual consumer communication.

Executive Summary from—Survey Estimates of Wealth: A Comparative Analysis and Review of the Survey of Income and Program Participation
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 65, No. 1 (released May 2004)
by John L. Czajka, Jonathan E. Jacobson, and Scott Cody
Racial and Ethnic Differences in Wealth and Asset Choices
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 64, No. 4 (released June 2003)
by Sharmila Choudhury

Analysis of the wealth held by white, black, and Hispanic households points to differences in saving behavior, notably a disinclination on the part of minority households to invest in riskier, higher-yielding financial assets. This finding may account for some of the great disparities in wealth across racial and ethnic groups that cannot be explained by income and demographic factors.

Does Retirement Education Teach People to Save Pension Distributions?
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 64, No. 4 (released June 2003)
by Leslie A. Muller

Education about retirement affects how employees use distributions from their defined contribution pension plans. Retirement education substantially increases the probability that participants age 40 and under will save a distribution but decreases the probability that college graduates and women will save one. These important differentials are concealed by estimates of the effect of retirement education on participants generally.

Retirement and Wealth
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 64, No. 2 (released September 2002)
by Alan L. Gustman and Thomas L. Steinmeier

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.

Racial and Ethnic Differences in Wealth Holdings and Portfolio Choices
ORES Working Paper No. 95 (released April 2002)
by Sharmila Choudhury

There are large differences in wealth across racial and ethnic groups, much of which remain unexplained even after controlling for income and demographic factors. This paper studies the issue of whether differences in saving behavior and rates of return on assets are a possible source of the differences in wealth. It uses data from the Health and Retirement Study to examine the differences in various components of aggregate wealth (including nonhousing equity, housing equity, financial assets, and risky assets) and to inspect differences in portfolio choices by race and ethnicity.

Descriptive tabulations of components of aggregate wealth and portfolio choices shown here point to differences between white and minority households in their saving behavior and choice of assets. These findings suggest that some of the large differences in wealth across racial and ethnic groups that remain unexplained even after controlling for income and demographic factors, may be attributable to the smaller participation in financial markets by minority households.

Participation in Voluntary Individual Savings Accounts: An Analysis of IRAs, 401(k)s, and the TSP
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 63, No. 1 (released July 2000)
by Glenn R. Springstead and Theresa M. Wilson

This article compares participation rates in three existing voluntary individual account-type plans—individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401(k)s, and the federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)—in an effort to analyze who might participate in a voluntary individual account system.

The Pareto Optimality of Existing Pay-as-You-Go Social Security Programs
ORES Working Paper No. 47 (released June 1991)
by Dean R. Leimer

In recent years, a number of proposals have been advanced for privatizing all or part of the Social Security program in the United States. These proposals range from the immediate abolition to the gradual phasing-out of Social Security taxes and benefits. This paper evaluates several premises that often underlie privatization proposals—that rates of return in the private sector exceed those implicit in the Social Security program, that privatization would lead to an increase in national saving, and that privatization could somehow improve the lifetime welfare of all affected generations. The paper first considers whether rates of return in the private sector actually exceed those implicit in the Social Security program and discuss the conditions required for privatization to lead to an increase in national saving. The paper then demonstrates theoretically that an existing, well-managed, pay-as-you-go social security program is Pareto optimal in an economy with exogenous factor prices, regardless of the extent to which privately available rates of return exceed those implicit in the pay-as-you-go program; i.e., no privatization scheme can be found that benefits at least one present or future generation without harming at least one other generation, and no scheme can be found that allows the winners from privatization to compensate the losers and still come out ahead. The analysis is extended to incorporate the assumption of endogenous factor prices and the possibility that pay-as-you-go social security programs reduce private saving. The theoretical conclusions are illustrated by using a long-run economic projection model to simulate the aggregate economic and intergenerational redistributive effects of two stylized privatization schemes.

Social Security, Uncertainty Adjustments, and the Consumption Decision
ORES Working Paper No. 40 (released November 1989)
by Dean R. Leimer and David H. Richardson

This paper reports on an analysis of the consumption decisions of individuals. A consumption function is developed that can be viewed as an extension of the traditional life cycle-permanent income specification, with consumption determined as an age-specific proportion of current and prospective wealth. Special attention is focused on the degree of substitutability between current and prospective wealth and on the differential effects of the various types of prospective income flows on the consumption decision.

Social Security and Private Saving: An Examination of Feldstein's New Evidence
ORES Working Paper No. 31 (released October 1983)
by Dean R. Leimer and Selig D. Lesnoy

In a recent article in the Journal of Political Economy (Leimer and Lesnoy 1982), we presented new time series evidence that cast considerable doubt on earlier evidence presented by Martin Feldstein (1974) which implied that social security had a large and statistically significant negative effect on personal saving in the United States. Our results may be summarized as follows: First, the social security wealth variable used by Feldstein was seriously flawed as a result of a computer-programming error. Simply correcting this error substantially changes the estimated effect of social security on saving. Second, the statistical evidence depends upon assumptions which are embedded in the construction of the social security wealth variable. These assumptions relate, first, to how individuals form their expectations about the social security benefits they expect to receive and the social security taxes they expect to pay and, second, to estimates of the number of workers, dependent wives, and surviving widows who will receive benefits. Adopting reasonable assumptions that differ from those used by Feldstein leads to generally weaker estimates of the relationship between social security and saving. Finally, the estimated relationship between social security and saving is acutely sensitive to the period of estimation examined. We concluded that the time series evidence simply does not support the hypothesis that social security has substantially reduced personal saving in the United States.

Promotion of Subsidized Savings in the Federal Republic of Germany
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 44, No. 10 (released October 1981)
Social Security and Private Saving: New Time Series Evidence with Alternative Specifications
ORES Working Paper No. 22 (released September 1981)
by Selig D. Lesnoy and Dean R. Leimer

The purpose of this paper is to consider several alternative specifications of the consumer expenditure function.

Social Security and Private Saving: A Reexamination of the Time Series Evidence Using Alternative Social Security Wealth Variables
ORES Working Paper No. 19 (released November 1980)
by Dean R. Leimer and Selig D. Lesnoy

In an important article in the Journal of Political Economy [1974], Martin Feldstein estimated that the introduction of the social security system had reduced personal saving by 50 percent, with serious consequences for capital formation and output. His conclusion was based on a consumer expenditure function estimated with U.S. time series data and incorporating a social security wealth variable of his construction.

The original intent of this paper was to examine the sensitivity of Feldstein's conclusions to certain assumptions underlying his construction of the social security variable. In particular, we wanted to examine the implication of his assumptions concerning how individuals perceive future benefits and taxes.

Social Security and Private Saving: Another Look
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 42, No. 5 (released May 1979)
by Robert J. Barro, Michael Darby, Martin Feldstein, and Alicia H. Munnell
A Re-examination of the Link Between Social Security and Saving
ORES Working Paper No. 1 (released February 1979)
by John B. Hagens

This paper attempts to make two contributions to this research. The first one is expositional. A simple overlapping generation's model is developed and used to reinvestigate the wealth and endowment redistribution effects from the introduction of pay-as-you-go social security. Our second contribution is substantive and extends the analysis of the endowment redistribution effect. Finally, perspective is offered on the relationship between pay-as-you-go social security and private saving.

Effect of Social Security on Saving: Review of Studies Using U.S. Time-Series Data
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 41, No. 5 (released May 1978)
by Louis Esposito
Social Security, Saving, and Capital Formation
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 38, No. 7 (released July 1975)
by Selig D. Lesnoy and John C. Hambor
Research Grants Studies
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 37, No. 11 (released November 1974)
State-Chartered Credit Unions, 1965
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 30, No. 2 (released February 1967)
by Vincent J. Olive
Private Pensions and Individual Savings
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 29, No. 5 (released May 1966)
by George Katona
State-Chartered Credit Unions in 1964
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 28, No. 11 (released November 1965)
by Ronald M. Gardner
State-Chartered Credit Unions in 1963
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 27, No. 11 (released November 1964)
by Vincent J. Olive
Federal Credit Unions: Thirty Years of Service
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 27, No. 7 (released July 1964)
by Edwin J. Swindler
State-Chartered Credit Unions in 1962
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 26, No. 11 (released November 1963)
State-Chartered Credit Unions in 1961
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 25, No. 11 (released November 1962)
by Ronald M. Gardner
Purposes for Which Credit Union Loans Were Made, 1961
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 25, No. 10 (released October 1962)
by Ronald M. Gardner
Social Progress Through Credit Unions in Peru
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 25, No. 8 (released August 1962)
by William E. Allen
State-Chartered Credit Unions in 1960
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 24, No. 11 (released November 1961)
by Ronald M. Gardner
State-Chartered Credit Unions in 1959
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 24, No. 1 (released January 1961)
by Ronald M. Gardner
Fifty Years of Credit Union Operations
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 22, No. 12 (released December 1959)
by Ronald M. Gardner
State-Chartered Credit Unions in 1958
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 22, No. 11 (released November 1959)
by Ronald M. Gardner
Federal Credit Unions: Twenty-Five Years of Self-Help Security
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 22, No. 6 (released June 1959)
by William E. Allen
State-Chartered Credit Unions in 1957
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 21, No. 11 (released November 1958)
by Ronald M. Gardner
State-Chartered Credit Unions in 1956
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 20, No. 11 (released November 1957)
State-Chartered Credit Unions in 1955
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 19, No. 11 (released November 1956)
The Federal Credit Union System: A Legislative History
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 19, No. 5 (released May 1956)
by John T. Croteau
Federal Credit Unions: Origin and Development
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 18, No. 11 (released November 1955)
by Erdis W. Smith
State-Chartered Credit Unions, 1954
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 18, No. 11 (released November 1955)
by Ronald M. Gardner
Credit Unions Under State Charters, 1953
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 17, No. 11 (released November 1954)
State-Chartered Credit Unions in 1952
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 16, No. 11 (released November 1953)
How Federal Credit Unions Operate During Work Stoppages
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 16, No. 4 (released April 1953)
Federal Credit Unions, 1951
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 15, No. 11 (released November 1952)
Federal Credit Unions, 1950
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 14, No. 11 (released November 1951)
Use of Pay-Roll Deductions by Federal Credit Unions
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 12, No. 11 (released November 1949)
Federal Credit Union Loans, 1948
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 12, No. 7 (released July 1949)
by Erdis W. Smith
Federal Credit Unions
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 11, No. 10 (released October 1948)
by Erdis W. Smith