How Important Is Asset Allocation to Financial Security in Retirement?

Alicia H. MunnellNatalia Orlova Anthony Webb

WP#2012-13

Abstract

Financial advice tends to focus on financial assets, but other levers may be more important for most households. This paper proceeds in three stages. The first section reports a simple Excel spreadsheet exercise that provides a stylized example of the tradeoff between returns and time spent in the labor force. The second section uses data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) on pre-retirees aged 51-64 to see how the gap between retirement needs and retirement resources is affected by working longer, taking out a reverse mortgage, controlling spending, and shifting all assets to equities with no risk. The third section uses a simple dynamic programming model to calculate a risk-adjusted measure of the value for the average household of moving from a typical conservative portfolio to an optimal portfolio. The answer from all three exercises is the same: the focus on asset allocation is misplaced.