Consumption During Retirement: The Missing Link in the Life Cycle

Daniel S. Hamermesh

NBER Working Paper No. 930 (Also Reprint No. r0517)
Issued in July 1982
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies

This study presents the first evidence on the relation of consumption to lifetime wealth, based on data from the 1973 and 1975 Retirement History Survey that have been linked to Social Security earnings records. Nearly 500 white, married, fully retired couples ages 62-69 form the basis of the analysis. On average their consumption early in retirement exceeds by 14 percent the income that their financial, pension and Social Security wealth can generate. This implies that their saving, both private and through Social Security, is insufficient to sustain consumption throughout the rest of their lives. Additional evidence based on changes in spending between 1973 and 1975 shows that these households respond by reducing their real consumption at a rate sufficient to generate positive changes in net financial worth within a few years after retirement. These two pieces of evidence can be rationalized by a rate of time preference much higher than the interest rate, coupled with either a bequest motive or uncertainty about the length of life. They also imply that, even when combined with private pensions and savings, Social Security in the United States today does not enable most recipients to maintain their living standard at the levels they enjoyed before they retired.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w0930

Published: Hamermesh, Daniel S. "Consumption During Retirement: The Missing Link in the Life Cycle." Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 66, No. 1, (February 1984), pp. 1-7. citation courtesy of

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