Monday, February 13, 2012

New papers from the NBER

Numeracy, financial literacy, and financial decision-making by Annamaria Lusardi - #17821 (AG)


Financial decisions, be they related to asset building or debt management, require the capacity to do calculations, including some complex ones. But how numerate are individuals, in particular when it comes to calculations related to financial decisions? Studies and surveys implemented in both the United States and in other countries that are described in this paper show the level of numeracy among the population to be very low. Moreover, lack of numeracy is not only widespread but is particularly severe among some demographic groups, such as women, the elderly, and those with low educational attainment. This has potential consequences for individuals and for society as a whole because numeracy is found to be linked to many financial decisions. Now more than ever, numeracy and financial literacy are lifetime skills necessary to succeed in today's complex economic environment.

Were They Prepared for Retirement? Financial Status at Advanced Ages in the HRS and AHEAD Cohorts by James M. Poterba, Steven F. Venti, David A. Wise - #17824 (AG)


Many analysts have considered whether households approaching retirement age have accumulated enough assets to be well prepared for retirement. In this paper, we shift from studying household finances at the start of the retirement period, an ex ante measure of retirement preparation, to studying the asset holdings of households in their last years of life. The analysis is based on Health and Retirement Study with special attention to Asset and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old (AHEAD) cohort that was first surveyed in 1993.

We consider the level of assets that households hold in the last survey wave preceding their death. We study how assets at the end of life depend on three family status pathways prior to death-- (1) original one-person households in 1993, (2) persons in two-person household in 1993 with a deceased spouse in the last year observed, and (3) persons in two-person households in 1993 with the spouse alive when last observed. We find that a substantial fraction of persons die with virtually no financial assets--46.1 percent with less than $10,000--and many of these households also have no housing wealth and rely almost entirely on Social Security benefits for support. In addition this group is disproportionately in poor health. Based on a replacement rate comparison, many of these households may be deemed to have been well-prepared for retirement, in the sense that their income in their final years was not substantially lower than their income in their late 50s or early 60s.

Yet with such low asset levels, they would have little capacity to pay for unanticipated needs such as health expenses or other financial shocks or to pay for entertainment, travel, or other activities. This raises a question of whether the replacement ratio is a sufficient statistic for the "adequacy" of retirement preparation.

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