Retirement Income Data: Improvements Could Better Support Analysis of Future Retirees' Prospects

TitleRetirement Income Data: Improvements Could Better Support Analysis of Future Retirees' Prospects
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsUnited States General Accounting Office,
InstitutionWashington, DC, U.S. General Accounting Office
KeywordsMethodology, Pensions, Retirement Planning and Satisfaction

Future demographic trends include a doubling of the nation's retiree population and only modest labor force growth, leading to concerns about retirement income adequacy for future generations. Credible projections of the effects of policy proposals on federal spending and future retirees' income are necessary. Because adequate data is critical to the analysis of retirement income and wealth, GAO was asked to identify data improvements that experts say are a priority for the study of retirement income and wealth, as well as factors limiting efforts to obtain the needed information. Experts consulted by GAO cited priorities for improving retirement data that fit into two broad categories: (1) obtaining better data from employers on employee benefits and (2) obtaining better data by linking more individual and household surveys with administrative data (such as employer records, and Social Security earnings history records). Information from employers, such as documents describing the features of their pension plans, would enable analysts to forecast future retirement income of pension holders, based on the specific features of their pension plans and the likely distribution of pension income and wealth for different segments of the population. Linking individual and household surveys with administrative data creates new information, such as the demographic characteristics of employees whose pensions are affected by the formulas that employers use to calculate contributions or pension payments. Analysts attribute the shortcomings in retirement income data primarily to fragmentation of the responsibility for data collection and analysis, the burden of data collection on respondents, and confidentiality considerations that restrict access to these data. Fragmentation of responsibility occurs, in their view, because no single agency has a statutory mandate to collect or to analyze all the data needed to support a more comprehensive study of retirement income and wealth. With regard to respondent burden, some information on pension plans is no longer collected, in part, out of concern that it was an unnecessary burden on the firms having to submit it. Finally, certain kinds of data needed to make projections are not widely available to all analysts because of the confidentiality laws that authorize their collection.

Endnote Keywords

Retirement/Pensions/Data Quality

Endnote ID


Citation Key5536