Monday, October 31, 2011

New papers from the National Bureau of Economic Research

The Composition and Draw-down of Wealth in Retirement by James M. Poterba, Steven F. Venti, David A. Wise - #17536 (AG EFG PE)

Abstract: This paper presents evidence on the resources available to households as they enter retirement. It draws heavily on data collected by the Health and Retirement Study and calculates the "potential additional annuity income" that households could purchase, given their holdings of non-annuitized financial assets at the start of retirement.    

Even if households used all of their financial assets inside and outside personal retirement accounts to purchase a life annuity, only 47 percent of households between the ages of 65 and 69 in 2008 could increase their life-contingent income by more than $5,000 per year.

At the upper end of the wealth distribution, however, a substantial number of households could make large annuity purchases. The paper also considers the role of housing equity in the portfolios of retirement-age households, and explores the extent to which households draw down housing equity and financial assets as they age.

Many households appear to treat housing equity and non-annuitized financial assets as "precautionary savings," tending to draw them down only when they experience a shock such as the death of a spouse or a period of substantial medical outlays. Because home equity is often conserved until very late in life, for many households it may provide some insurance against the risk of living longer than expected.

How Did the Recession of 2007-2009 Affect the Wealth and Retirement of the Near Retirement Age Population in the Health and Retirement Study? by Alan L. Gustman, Thomas L. Steinmeier, Nahid Tabatabai - #17547 (AG EFG LS PE)

Abstract: This paper uses asset 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 those in the population who were just approaching retirement age at the beginning of the recession, a potentially vulnerable segment of the working age population. The retirement wealth held by those ages 53 to 58 before the onset of the recession in 2006 declined by a relatively modest 2.8 percentage points by 2010.    In more normal times, their wealth would have increased over these four years. Members of older cohorts accumulated an additional 5 percent of wealth over the same age span.

To be sure, a part of their accumulation was the result of the upside of the housing bubble. The wealth holdings of poorer households were least affected by the recession. Relative losses are greatest for those who initially had the highest wealth when the recession began.

The adverse labor market effects of the Great Recession are more modest. Although there is an increase in unemployment, that increase is not mirrored in the rate of flow out of full-time work or partial retirement. All told, the retirement behavior of the Early Boomer cohort looks similar, at least so far, to the behavior observed for members of older cohorts at comparable ages.

Very few in the population nearing retirement age have experienced multiple adverse events. Although most of the loss in wealth is due to a fall in the net value of housing, because very few in this cohort have found their housing wealth under water, and housing is the one asset this cohort is not likely to cash in for another decade or two, there is time for their losses in housing wealth to recover.

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