Private Pensions, Mortality Risk, and the Decision to Annuitize

Jeffrey R. Brown

NBER Working Paper No. 7191
Issued in June 1999
NBER Program(s):   AG   PE

This paper examines household decisions about whether or not to annuitize retirement resources. A life-cycle model of consumption, implemented with the use of dynamic programming techniques, is used to construct a utility-based measure of annuity value for individuals and couples in the Health and Retirement Survey. Variation in the calculated annuity equivalent wealth' arises from differences in mortality risk, marital status, risk aversion, and the presence of pre-existing annuities such as Social Security. I find that a one-percentage point increase in the annuity equivalent wealth leads to nearly a one-percentage point increase in the ex ante probability of annuitizing balances in defined contribution pension plans. However, because much of the variation in the expected annuity decision is left unexplained by the life-cycle model, other factors are also analyzed. Health status and an individual's time horizon for financial decision making are significant determinants of the decision. There is no evidence that bequest motives are an important factor in making marginal annuity decisions.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w7191

Published: Brown, Jeffrey R. "Private Pensions, Mortality Risk, And The Decision To Annuitize," Journal of Public Economics, 2001, v82(1,Oct), 29-62. citation courtesy of

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