Do Longevity Expectations Influence Retirement Plans?

Mobile Share Email Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Increasing life expectancy has made working longer both more necessary and more possible, but the relationship between an individual’s survival expectations and his planned retirement age is unclear in the existing literature. This study uses the Health and Retirement Study and an instrumental variables (IV) approach to examine how subjective life expectancy influences planned retirement ages and expectations of working at older ages, and how individuals update those expectations when they receive new information. The estimates in this paper suggest a large and statistically significant relationship between subjective life expectancy and retirement expectations: a one-standard-deviation increase in optimism about living to ages 75 or 85 is associated with an 8-percent to 24-percent increase over the mean probability of working at these ages. Actual retirement behavior also increases with subjective life expectancy, but the relationship is somewhat weaker. Our IV estimates using parents’ longevity as instruments are largely consistent with our reduced form estimates, strengthening the conclusion that subjective life expectancy impacts both retirement planning and actual retirement behaviors. Finally, we find that increases over time in subjective life expectancy are associated with increases in the probability of planning to work at ages 62 and 65. The results further our understanding of how survival and retirement expectations are “anchored” to the previous generation’s experience and suggest how targeted efforts at increasing knowledge about rising life expectancy may increase the proportion of younger cohorts who decide to work longer.