Do Households Save More When the Kids Leave Home?

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Much of the disagreement over whether households are adequately prepared for retirement reflects differences in assumptions regarding the extent to which consumption declines when the kids leave home. If consumption declines substantially when the kids leave home, as some life-cycle models of retirement saving assume, households need to achieve lower replacement rates in retirement and need to accumulate less wealth. Using administrative tax data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), as well as the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), this paper investigates whether household consumption declines when kids leave the home and, if so, by how much. Because consumption data are noisy and savings is the flip side of consumption, this paper examines whether savings in 401(k) plans increase when the kids leave home. The paper also investigates alternative methods of saving, including non-401(k) savings and increased mortgage payments.