The Contributions of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College: 2008-2017

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Steven A. Sass, Boston College

The Social Security Administration created the Retirement Research Consortium (RRC) in 1998 “to expand the knowledge base upon which Social Security and retirement policy decisions are made.” The need to know more was critical, as the nation’s retirement income system was undergoing a dramatic transformation. The demographic transition to an older and slower-growing society was undermining the finances of Social Security and other government programs for the elderly. The shift in employer plans from defined benefit pensions to 401(k)s was making workers, not employers, primarily responsible for accumulating enough savings for retirement over their working years, and for drawing an income out of those savings once retired. The retirement income system also needed to accommodate the prospect of steeply rising medical costs and the need for expensive long-term care services and supports as more retirees entered advanced old age. Further stressing the system were major socioeconomic changes, specifically rising inequality, the increased employment of women, and the decline in marriage.

The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College (CRR) and its affiliates – the Brookings Institution, Syracuse University, and the Urban Institute – have expanded the knowledge base by producing roughly 200 basic research studies on key policy issues. The CRR also manages the Social Security Administration’s dissertation fellowship and junior faculty grant programs that further enlarge the knowledge base and expand the pool of qualified researchers in the field. All these studies are disseminated though the CRR’s working papers series; biweekly issues in brief, including briefs that synthesize current RRC research; twice weekly Squared Away blog posts; the publication of articles in refereed journals, and the publication of booklets for the general public that provide research-based retirement planning advice.

A previous article in this publication reviewed the contributions of the CRR over its first 10 years of existence, from 1998-2008. This article covers the contributions of the CRR over the last 10 years, from 2008-2017. The first section reviews studies that address the Social Security program and its contribution to retirement income security going forward. The second section does the same for private retirement saving. The third section reviews studies that address the challenge that medical risks and expenditure pose as the retiree population ages. The fourth section concludes by identifying the CRR’s key research contributions and a research agenda going forward.

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