Pension Wealth, Age-Wealth Profiles and the Distribution of Net Worth
Ann A. McDermed, Robert L. Clark, Steven G. Allen
NBER Working Paper No. 2439
This study estimates the magnitude of pension wealth and compares pension wealth to net worth for households in the 1983 Survey of Consumer Finance (SCF). The SCF is the first data set to provide detailed information on both household finances and pension characteristics. The pension information is provided by the employer, so that it is much more detailed and likely to be more accurate than the pension data used in previous studies. Pension wealth was estimated under two sets of assumptions. Under the projected earnings approach, mean pension wealth is $98,291, which represents 43 percent of mean net worth for households with pensions. Under the legal method of calculating pension wealth, mean pension wealth is $47,541, which represents 26 percent of mean net worth for households with pensions. Both estimates are much larger than those obtained in earlier studies. The study also examines how estimates of inequality in the wealth distribution change when pension wealth is added to household balance sheets. Using a variety of methods and assumptions, the distribution becomes more equal when the definition of wealth is expanded to include pension assets.