Friday, May 26, 2017

New papers from the Social Science Research Network

"Contributory Retirement Saving Plans: Differences across Earnings Groups and Implications for Retirement Security"
Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 77(2), p. 13-24, 2017

IRENA DUSHI, U.S. Social Security Administration
HOWARD IAMS, U.S. Social Security Administration
CHRISTOPHER R. TAMBORINI, U.S. Social Security Administration

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 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.

"An Experimental Analysis of Modifications to the Survivor Benefit Information within the Social Security Statement"
CRR WP 2017-5, May 2017

JEFFREY DIEBOLD, North Carolina State University - School of Public and International Affairs
SUSAN E. CAMILLERI, North Carolina State University

This paper examines the effect of modifications to the survivor benefit information in the Social Security Statement on the benefit knowledge and the expected claiming behavior of married men using an experimental survey of workers from the RAND American Life Panel (ALP). Critical components of this analysis include modifications to the survivor benefit information in the Statement’s benefit table and a “special insert” that explains the survivor benefit provisions. The key limitations of this study include the limited generalizability of the results due to the sampling frame (i.e., men) and the self-selection of ALP panel members into the study. Second, a worker’s claiming decision is likely the result of a more complicated decision-making process than was allowed for in this experiment. Our study assumes, for example, that married workers evaluate their benefit information and make a decision about when to claim independent of input from their spouse. While the occurrence and scope of such deliberations will vary by household, given the financial implications of this decision for each spouse, the assumption that married workers make this decision unilaterally is somewhat tenuous.
The paper found that:
• Providing individuals with comprehensive and complex survivor benefit information improved their awareness and understanding of these provisions.
• When workers are compelled to consider the effect that their claim age has on their survivor benefit, they appear to incorporate this into deciding when to claim. Each modification increased the expected claim ages of respondents by roughly one year relative to the control.
• While it is possible to foster a deeper understanding of the complex interaction among survivor benefit provisions through an informational insert, this level of comprehension does not appear necessary to induce prosocial claiming behavior. Instead, it was sufficient for respondents to merely see that their spouse would receive a lower survivor benefit at lower claim ages.
• The fade-out of the effects of the modifications considered in this analysis was rapid.
The policy implications of the findings are:
• Respondents in this study were not well informed about the survivor benefit, suggesting that more detailed information may help married workers prepare financially for retirement and the transition into widowhood.
• The finding that workers exposed to survivor benefit information were more likely to adjust their expected claim age suggests that they may not have already factored this information into their expectations and that it has value.
• The rapid fade-out of the improvements in benefit knowledge and expected claiming behavior evident in this study has important practical implications and suggests that workers may benefit most if online information and mailed paper statements were treated as complements as opposed to substitutes.

"Actuarial Inputs and the Valuation of Public Pension Liabilities and Contribution Requirements: A Simulation Approach"
CRR WP 2017-4 May 2017

GANG CHEN, State University of New York (SUNY) - Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy
DAVID S. T. MATKIN, SUNY University at Albany, SUNY University at Albany

This paper uses a simulated public pension system to examine the sensitivity of actuarial input changes on funding ratios and contribution requirements. We examine instantaneous and lagged effects, marginal and interactive effects, and effects under different funding conditions and demographic profiles. The findings emphasize the difficulty of conducting cross-sectional analyses of public pension systems and point to several important considerations for future research.
The paper found that:
• Discount rates, salary growth rates, cost methods, and mortality tables all influence funding ratios and contribution requirements. Without considering these effects, comparisons of funding ratios across pension systems will produce biased results.
• The discount rate assumption is the most influential actuarial input on funding ratios and contribution requirements. We show that a plan can postpone required contributions by raising its discount rate assumption, but its funding condition deteriorates in the long run. In contrast, if a plan reduces its discount rate by one percentage point, and its investment returns continue at the level that was previously assumed, it will take approximately seven years for the funding ratio to return to its original level and an even longer time period for the ARC to return to its original level (though the exact length of time depends on investment returns and the baseline discount rate assumption).
• The effects of actuarial inputs greatly depend on plan characteristics such as demographic profiles and asset levels, and also interactions with other actuarial inputs. Because of the interactive effects, it is difficult to standardize funding ratios or pension obligations by only controlling for a single actuarial input. With better data on plan characteristics (such as information on mortality tables and age distributions), simulations could be used to standardize pension liabilities. In the absence of that information, improved consistency in financial reporting (such as requiring a single cost method) is an effective way to facilitate better comparisons of financial conditions across pension plans.
The policy implications of the findings are:
• The valuation (or measurement) of public pension liabilities and contribution requirements is highly sensitive to the choice of several actuarial assumptions, which should be considered when assessing the financial condition of public pension systems.
• The sensitivity of liability and contribution requirement valuations to actuarial assumptions and methods depends on the demographic profile of pension participants.
• Making more optimistic assumptions reduces the liability and contribution valuations in the short term, but, over time, more optimistic assumptions can have substantive and harmful effects on pension liabilities and contribution requirements.

"Interactions between Financial Incentives and Health in the Early Retirement Decision"

PILAR GARCIA-GOMEZ, Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Erasmus School of Economics (ESE)
TITUS J. GALAMA, USC Center for Economic and Social Research, The RAND Corporation
EDDY VAN DOORSLAER, Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Institute of Health Policy and Management
ANGEL LOPEZ NICOLAS, Technical University of Cartagena (UPCT)

We present a theory of the relation between health and retirement that generates testable predictions regarding the interaction of health, wealth and financial incentives in retirement decisions. The theory predicts (i) that wealthier individuals (compared to poorer individuals) are more likely to retire for health reasons (affordability proposition), and (ii) that health problems make older workers more responsive to financial incentives encouraging retirement (reinforcement proposition). We test these predictions using administrative data on older employees in the Dutch healthcare sector for whom we link adverse health events, proxied by unanticipated hospitalizations, to information on retirement decisions and actual incentives from administrative records of the pension funds. Exploiting unexpected health shocks and quasi-exogenous variation in financial incentives for retirement due to reforms, we account for the endogeneity of health and financial incentives. Making use of the actual individual pension rights diminishes downward bias in estimates of the effect of pension incentives. We find support for our affordability and reinforcement propositions. Both propositions require the benefits function to be convex, as in our data. Our theory and empirical findings highlight the importance of assessing financial incentives for their potential reinforcement of health shocks and point to the possibility that differences in responses to financial incentives and health shocks across countries may relate to whether the benefit function is concave or convex.

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