Can the Drawdown Patterns of Earlier Cohorts Help Predict Boomers’ Behavior?

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Past generations drew down their wealth slowly in retirement, leaving much of their savings untouched.  However, this pattern may not hold as the Baby Boomer generation retires, because they are less likely to have a defined benefit (DB) plan and will need to tap the assets in their defined contribution (DC) plans to support their consumption.  This paper uses data from the Health and Retirement Study to estimate the relationship between access to DB plans and the speed at which past generations drew down their wealth.

The paper found that:

  • Having access to a DB plan was associated with slower drawdown of retirement wealth.
  • The larger the share of retirees’ resources in an annuity-like form – either DB plans, Social Security benefits, or commercial annuities – the slower they drew down their wealth.

The policy implications of the findings are:

  • Forecasts for the Baby Boomer generation based on the drawdown of past generations likely underestimate their drawdown speed.
  • Baby Boomers reliant on DC plans could run a greater risk of outliving their savings than earlier generations.