Aging and Housing Equity
NBER Working Paper No. 7882
Housing equity is the principle asset of a large fraction of older Americans. Indeed many retired persons have essentially no financial assets, other then Social Security and, for some, employer-provided pension benefits. Yet we find that housing wealth is typically not used to support non-housing consumption during retirement. Based on data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, and the Asset and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old, we consider the change in home equity as families age. The results are based in large part on families aged 70 and older. We find that, barring changes in household structure, most elderly families are unlikely to move. Even among movers, those families that continue to own typically do not reduce home equity. However, precipitating shocks, like the death of a spouse or entry to a nursing home, sometimes lead to liquidation of home equity. Home equity is typically not liquidated to support general non-housing consumption needs. The implication is that when considering whether families have saved enough to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living after retirement, housing equity should not be counted on to support general non-housing consumption. These conclusions seem to correspond closely with the results of a recent American Association of Retired Persons survey, which found that 95 percent of persons 75 and older agreed with the statement: What I'd really like to do is stay in my current residence as long as possible.'
Published: Bodie, Hammond, and Mitchell (eds.) Innovations in Retirement Financing. University of Pennsylvania Press and the Pension Research Council, 2002.