NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Decision Complexity as a Barrier to Annuitization

Jeffrey R. Brown, Arie Kapteyn, Erzo F.P. Luttmer, Olivia S. Mitchell

NBER Working Paper No. 19168
Issued in June 2013
NBER Program(s):   AG   PE

We show that people have difficulty valuing annuities, and this, instead of a preference for lumpsums, helps explain observed low annuity demand. Although the median price at which people are willing to sell an annuity stream is close to the actuarial value, many responses diverge greatly from optimizing behavior. Moreover, people will pay substantially less to buy than to sell annuities. We conclude that boundedly rational consumers adopt “buy low, sell high” heuristics when confronting a complex trade-off. This suggests that many consumers do not make optimizing decisions, underscoring the difficulty of explaining cross-sectional annuity valuation differences using standard models.

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